In the many years that have passed since the release of The Lion King, it remains one of the most emotional and powerful scores from composer Hans Zimmer. Though the orchestral material is limited due to the high number of vocal tracks on the album, it's still well worth owning.
The main attraction of the Lion King soundtrack has always been its powerful and moving orchestral-choral score. This was the film score that introduced me to Hans Zimmer, and what an introduction it was. Each of the four orchestral score tracks is rife with mood and drama while remaining melodically focused. In "This Land" the themes of familial love and of coming to terms with one's destiny are revealed through a nearly spiritual combination of gentle solo flute, powerful full orchestrations and moving choral chanting. The stampede cue "...To Die For" is rife with danger, utilizing ethnic choral accompaniment with an intensity that was largely unheard in its time. "Under the Stars" reintroduces the family theme, this time with a sense of redemption while conjuring beautiful images of African landscapes, while "King of Pride Rock" takes a darker and more dramatic tone until its victorious and celebratory reprise of "Circle of Life".
Regarding the vocal numbers, among Disney's assortment of animated musicals I'd say The Lion King's songs rank right at the top. "Circle of Life" stands out as the album's best vocal piece, with its dignified lyrical content, African chanting and pretty flute interlude. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" makes a more tender and romantic impression, aided by the soft choral accompaniment and the pleasant lead female vocals in its chorus. "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and "Hakuna Matata" are more childish and lighthearted in tone and don't seem to take their ethnic music theme altogether seriously, but I'll admit I find myself singing along at times.
As for the three pop performances by Elton John, "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are fine for what they are - top 40 radio fare - though for many soundtrack fans they probably aren't much of an attraction. The times I find myself listening to the vocal pieces it's almost always the aforementioned musical numbers from the film itself instead.
Even with the included vocal tracks there remains plenty of extra room on the album, so it's disappointing that only four tracks of Zimmer's excellent score was included - a mere seventeen minutes total. Nevertheless, for film soundtrack fans and listeners who enjoy orchestral-ethnic fusion, those seventeen minutes should be experienced.