Guest essay: “Circle of Life”

“Circle of Life”

By Sandra Reid

Imagine picking up a kitten for the first time, or maybe even a human baby. Alternatively seeing the sunrise or visiting the zoo. There is exactly one song that comes to mind in each of these scenarios, the iconic “Circle of Life.”

Whether performing a jumbled collection of syllables to reach for the legendary Zulu solo at the beginning or howling the chorus on seeing a baby, the song has permeated our everyday lives in a way never matched even by the likes of “Let It Go.”

It changed how major films introduce their themes, characters, and titles. The now over-saturated late title drop had been done in a few action movies previously, but “Circle of Life” codified how to make it work; awe-inspiring score and animation all seeped in operatic sincerity.

Even in the musical adaptation it alone could be worth the price of admission with gorgeous puppets and costumes surrounding Pride Rock as it rises over the stage.

As the essential jaw-dropping opener, Disney had set their own stakes and standards at and impossibly high level for this remake.

 

Sandra Reid has publications in The Rowdy Scholar and Spectrum along with articles in The Metropolitan.

“Song review: ‘Circle of Life’”

By Hunter Goddard

It is all too easy for the unimaginative filmmaker to consign the music in their film to forgettable background noise, but sometimes, a song can elevate the motion picture accompanying it into something immortal: an experience; a memory; a dream.

Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s animated musical, The Lion King (1994), is bookended with the choral leitmotifs of its signature track, “Circle of Life.”

This circular structure sings with the lyricism of Walt Disney’s Renaissance, and echoes with the poeticism of the film’s Shakespearean themes.

Composed by Elton John, written by Tim Rice, and performed by Carmen Twillie (who sings the English verses) and Lebo M. (who sings the Zulu), the record was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

It is the sunrise and sunset of the movie, the birth and death, the love and agony. Its notes soar to vertiginous heights while its vocals reach lows beneath our very skin, crawling along the goosebumps it raises on our flesh and the chills it strikes down our spines.

Such tonal polarization surrounds us with the picture’s epic theses of our history shaping our destiny, and the passionately drawn vistas of Simba’s birth at the beginning, then his own cub’s at the end, harmonize with each other divinely.

Ultimately, “Circle of Life” is a songwriting at its most cinematic, so vital to the imagery onscreen, visual and audio together collaborate into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.