Elton John Canceled Original ‘Lion King’ Song, Says Disney Legend

in Disney, Movies

An animated lion with a thick mane and expressive eyes looks surprised or shocked against a blurred background. The lion's mouth is slightly open, showcasing a range of emotions.

Credit: Disney

Elton John blocked the original version of the most iconic song in The Lion King (1994), according to the Broadway star and Disney legend who was supposed to sing it.

Elton John Disney+ Concert
Credit: Disney+

The Lion King is arguably the apex of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, which began when the desperate company hired Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to massage some life into its ailing animation arm.

The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Aladdin (1992) boosted Walt Disney Animation to the top of the box office and critical regard, but it was The Lion King that truly shattered the glass ceiling for movies about cartoon talking animals.

The film, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff from a script by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton, became the highest-grossing movie of 1994, the second-highest-grossing movie of all time (at the time), and remains the highest-grossing traditionally animated film ever. It was also critically acclaimed, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” a ballad by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Related: ‘Lion King’ Stage Show Coming to Disney+

The duo was also nominated for two other songs (“Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life”), but “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” became the massive hit from the Lion King original motion picture soundtrack, with Elton John himself singing a version of the credits and a mid-movie rendition being sung by Kristle Edwards, Joseph Williams, Sally Dworsky, Nathan Lane, and Ernie Sabella.

Two animated lions from "The Lion King" nuzzle against each other affectionately against a purple and blue gradient background. The lion on the left has a reddish mane, while the lioness on the right has light fur. Both wear content expressions.
Credit: Disney

However, according to Nathan Lane, who voiced Timon the meerkat in The Lion King, the song was originally intended to be sung in its entirety by him and Ernie Sabella, who voiced Pumba the Warthog. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lane revealed that Elton John disliked the idea of the ballad taking on a comedic tone.

Nathan Lane said, “Originally, we sang the whole thing. Elton John was mortified that the warthog and the meerkat were singing it. He said, ‘The reason I wrote the score was because I wanted to have a Disney love song. I didn’t want it to be sung by the rat and the pig.'”

A young lion cub, a warthog, and a meerkat walk side by side on a fallen log in front of a beautiful cascading waterfall amidst lush greenery. The scene evokes a sense of adventure and camaraderie among the trio.
Credit: Disney

While many performers might still be upset that an Oscar-winning song was taken away from them (and granted, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella still sing the intro and outro of the song), Lane seems to feel that Elton John was corrected.

He continued, “We did [record] a version. We sang the whole thing in our character voices. It wasn’t like we were going to do our legit Broadway version. We were doing two very character-type voices. It’s hard to do that and be romantic. Elton was right…Thankfully, everyone came to their senses.”

Related: 25 Years Later, ‘Lion King’ Needs The ‘Hamilton’ Treatment

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was re-recorded by Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, and Seth Rogen for the 2019 photorealistic The Lion King remake, directed by Jon Favreau. The remake made over $1.6 billion at the box office but has not had nearly the same effect on pop culture as the original, which remains a high-water mark for the company.

A close-up of a lion cub in The Lion King: Mufasa
Credit: Disney

A live-action/photorealistic prequel titled Mufasa: The Lion King is scheduled to hit theaters in December, but notably, Elton John was not asked back to write music for the film. A source close to the legendary musician said:

“After gifting the studio with such timeless classics as ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and ‘Circle of Life,’ Elton has been blindsided by this egregious snub. To have his legacy disregarded in such a callous manner is a bitter pill to swallow. He feels hurt and disillusioned by Disney’s actions!”

Maybe if he had let Timon and Pumba sing it, Disney would have asked him back.

What’s your favorite Disney ballad? Let us know in the comments below!

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