Hans Zimmer on The Lion King score: ‘The death of a father needs a serious requiem’

19 July 2019, 11:50

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Hans Zimmer might not be a Disney aficionado, but he knows exactly what ‘The Lion King’ means to people. We spoke to the legendary film composer about how he approached the score for this year’s ‘live-action’ remake.

Back in 1994, Hans Zimmer helped turn drawings of lions into living, emoting creatures with his remarkable African-influenced score for the Disney classic.

So, how did he build on his Oscar-winning music for the 2019 remake? We asked the great German composer about his creative process for the new film, which stars the voices of Beyoncé and Donald Glover.

At the time of the ’94 film, it was quite unusual for you to be scoring a Disney film...

“Well, it was completely unusual... actually no, that’s not true. I just hadn’t done any animated movies. But I think it was unusual for them to suddenly have an African voice over the opening titles.”

What did you do differently this time?

“I wanted to fix a few things from the ’94 score,” Zimmer jibes. “There was less me, and more musicians. I had all my favourite musicians in the room – all 102 of them.

“And it wasn’t like I had to explain to them what The Lion King was [this time]. I didn’t have to explain to them why they were playing those notes, because everyone knows The Lion King – so I could focus on getting these incredible performances out.

“We managed to make it much more improvisational, much looser, much more human film, in a funny sort of way.”

What attracted you to The Lion King all those years ago?

“Partly the wrong reasons... my daughter was six years old, and I’d never been able to take her to any premieres, and Dad likes to show off.

“The story wasn’t fully developed either. I saw the script way after the movie was finished. [I remember] Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, the two directors, were in this room with storyboards.”

Read more: can Seth Rogen really sing in The Lion King?

“They’d start telling me the story, get five minutes in, get to one storyboard and they would disagree about its meaning, start arguing and ignore me completely. So, I never quite got the story until I was working on it.

“But then came the moment when the father [Mufasa] dies. And my dad died when I was a kid, so suddenly it became a lot more serious.

“It’s interesting you started off saying I’ve never done any Disney movies, which is true, but all I knew was you can never talk down to children.

“So, I thought OK, if this deals with the death of a father, I’m going to go and write a serious requiem.”

Hans Zimmer - Remember (From "The Lion King"/Audio Only)

You’ve written so many memorable film melodies. When you find a great melody or idea, how do you know it’s special?

“I don’t. I just know when it’s not. Before I started this one, I looked through some old files – some old tapes – and there were 48 tunes as main themes for The Lion King. None of them were terrible, but none of them were ‘it’.

“And I’ve never used any of them – they’re just on the edge of getting thrown in the bin. But you somehow can’t quite… they could come in handy one of these days, but they’re no good.”

What have you learned from revisiting this score?

“I just thought it was interesting to be able to look at this film with a completely different point of view.

“And it’s much more the David Attenborough point of view – you know, oh my god, look at this planet, it’s so beautiful, and what are we doing to it? And how can we wake up and save it for our kids?”

Hans Zimmer - Stampede (From "The Lion King"/Audio Only)

The Lion King is out in cinemas now.