The forthcoming remake of The Lion King is a digital reimagining of one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time. The original came out in 1994, telling the story of a young lion named Simba who embarks on a coming-of-age journey to become the rightful King of the Pride Lands. It featured a memorable musical score of songs penned by English lyricist Sir Tim Rice and performed by Elton John. At the 67th Academy Awards, three of Rice’s songs from the film were nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards (“Can You Feel The Love Tonight” took home the statuette). They’ve since endured as timeless artifacts from the Disney Renaissance in the 1990s.
It’s only right that Rice is back for the remake to bring his magic in the form of a new collaboration with Elton John, “Never Too Late.” To find out more about the song, and the film itself, MTV News spoke with Rice about his new contribution, favorite original song, and more.
MTV News: How does it feel to see “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” survive as one of The Lion King’s biggest moments? What does that song mean to you?
Sir Tim Rice: It’s a great song. Elton did a wonderful vocal on the original record. I’m not actually surprised that it has endured the way that it has. It would have been insane to drop it from the remake.
MTV News: What was it like creating the new version with Elton John, Beyoncé, and the rest of the cast?
Sir Tim Rice: I actually was not present for the re-recording of the song. I was only in the studio for the new song that I recorded with Elton specifically for the remake called “Never Too Late.”
Rice (right) with Sir Elton John (left) at the 1995 Academy Awards
MTV News: What’s the meaning behind “Never Too Late” and how did the song come about?
Rice: We wanted to do a new song — the film’s producers and everybody else — with the point of it being to illustrate Simba’s dilemma; he believed that he had really screwed up his life because he thought that he killed his father. He also thought that he helped wreck his pride and that he was also leading a fairly lazy life. He thought that the end was near. It then dawned on him that it wasn’t, in fact, all over and that it is never too late to recover from rock bottom. It’s a great message that, in life, is almost always true.
MTV News: What’s the difference between writing music for the animated Lion King film versus this new one?
Rice: Whether you’re writing for animated characters or computer-generated ones, I try to make it believable for the characters and the situations that exist in the song. In the case of the movie, there aren’t any new songs sung by the new characters in the film.
MTV News: Over time, have any of the returning songs from the original took on new meaning for you? If so, were they changed to fit with the times?
Rice: Nope. They’re just great songs in my humble opinion. I like them all a lot. I think “Hakuna Matata” has been underused. Still, it became really popular with kids of all ages. I would have liked to see a new verse in the new movie but, alas, that was not to be. There are two verses that you can dig up on various The Lion King compilation albums. I think Elton did a brilliant job on all of the tunes in the original film and “Never Too Late,” which I love.
MTV News: Thinking of all of the Lion King songs that you’ve worked on, what’s been your favorite? Why?
Rice: It varies, depending on the mood that I’m in, really. Sometimes, I think I like “Circle Of Life.” Sometimes it’s “Be Prepared,” which is actually being cut back a bit in the new film, which is a pity. I mean, the character of Scar is still there, but I think that it’s very important that when you have unpleasant characters that they get musical moments that are just as strong as those for the heroes. My favorite depends on which one I haven’t heard in a long time. Right now, though, it’s “Never Too Late.”