Like many Americans who came of age in the ’90s, I had a childhood dominated by The Lion King. It wasn’t just the movie—though I rewatched it often—but the merchandise, the spin-offs, the Broadway adaptation, and the significantly less memorable but not exactly terrible direct-to-video sequels. The animated classic turns 20 this week, and Disney has recently gone into production on a made-for-TV sequel, with plans for a spinoff series reaching all the way into 2016.
Not all of the still-multiplying creative offspring of The Lion King have been great, to put it mildly. But sandwiched in among the initial spate of spinoffs and accessories was at least one lesser-known gem: Rhythm of the Pride Lands, a quasi-sequel to the original blockbuster soundtrack that is too often overlooked.
Unlike many Lion King tie-ins, Rhythm of the Pride Lands came directly from the making of the original movie. Following the completion of the film, there remained an abundance of songs that did not make it onto the screen. Rhythm of the Pride Lands, released in winter 1995, features many of those compositions, with lyrics added in several languages, including English, Swahili, and Zulu. Renowned South African musician Lebo M., who was hand-picked by Hans Zimmer to assist on the original film (and performed the iconic opening vocals for “Circle of Life”), co-produced the new soundtrack, and Rhythm of the Pride Lands was at least as much about further utilizing his talents as it was about moving a few more units. Several songs from the album would eventually find their way into later Lion King incarnations: “Lea Halalela,” for instance, was adapted into Nala’s haunting ballad “Shadowland” in the stage version, while “Warthog Rhapsody” (a song featuring Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane reprising their roles as Timon and Pumbaa) was reworked for The Lion King 1½.
What makes Rhythm of the Pride Lands worth seeking out are the lush orchestrations and choral performances, which are as powerful as those found in the film and on stage. The arrangements are just distinct enough to feel as if you’re hearing The Lion King from a new perspective—and even the songs that won’t be recognizable to newcomers, like the fun, bouncy “Kube,” and the somewhat dated but still pleasing “It’s Time,” stand on their own as delightful pop songs. While not all of The Lion King’s spawn merit revisiting, this soundtrack offers a worthy reason to take a return trip to Pride Rock.
“He Lives In You”
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
“One by One”