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"Circle of Life"
Circle of Life by Elton John (European variant).png
European variant of the standard artwork
Single by Elton John
from the album The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released 9 August 1994
Recorded
Studio BOP Recording Studios (Mmabatho, South Africa)
Genre Pop rock
Length 4:51
Label
Songwriter(s) Elton John, Tim Rice
Producer(s) Hans Zimmer
Elton John singles chronology
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight"
(1994)
"Circle of Life"
(1994)
"Believe"
(1995)

"Circle of Life" is a song from The Walt Disney Company 1994 animated film The Lion King. Composed by Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice, the song was performed by Carmen Twillie (the deep female lead vocals) and Lebo M. (opening vocals in Zulu) as the film's opening song. In an interview, Rice said he was amazed at the speed with which John composed: "I gave him the lyrics at the beginning of the session at about two in the afternoon. By half-past three, he'd finished writing and recording a stunning demo." Elton John sang a pop version (with alternative lyrics) of the song with the London Community Gospel Choir, which was included in the film's soundtrack and made into a music video.

"Circle of Life" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1994, along with two other songs from The Lion King: "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", the latter of which won the award. "Circle of Life" was also nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy. The song reached No. 11 in the UK and No. 18 in the US and is featured frequently in attractions based on The Lion King, such as Disney theme parks and parades. Michael Crawford sang it as part of a medley for The Disney Album in 2001.

The song was featured in Disney's 2019 photorealistic computer-animated remake of The Lion King and was used in the first trailer of the film, a near shot-for-shot remake of the opening of the original animated film. This new version of the song was performed by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, the actress who performed as Rafiki in the stage adaptation of the movie in London from 2005 to 2018. However, the new version also retains the original Zulu opening vocals by Lebo M. from the 1994 film.

In United States, music critics praised the song's structure and its' message, however in the United Kingdom, music critics' reviews on this song was mixed.

Live performances

John began to perform this one replacing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" in some of his concerts, shows and performances from 1999 to 2018.

Theatrical version

Act I

In the theatrical adaptation, the opening sequence is noticeably different from the opening of the film. For example, the song is sung by Rafiki instead of an off-screen female narrator.

With the sun rising over the Pride Lands, Rafiki commences the start of the production by singing the opening chant of the song and summoning the animals of the Pride Lands for the presentation of baby Simba. As the first two verses of the musical number end, a representation of Pride Rock appears on stage carrying its two reigning rulers, Sarabi cradling the small puppet representing her son in her arms with Mufasa alongside her. As the choir chants excitedly in the background, Rafiki accompanies the monarch and his consort to the top of Pride Rock to bless the cub before raising him high in the air, singing joyfully alongside the chorus as the gathered animals bow before their new prince.

Act II

At the end of Act II, Simba's friends and family acknowledge him as the rightful king after Scar's defeat. Rafiki crowns Simba with the mantle of kingship after his victory and Simba ascends Pride Rock. There he gives a mighty roar which echoes across the whole kingdom, and the animals come back to the Pride Lands to recognise and salute Simba as the rightful king. The musical ends as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub to all of the animals, followed by a blackout that finishes Act II and leads to the curtain call at the end of the performance.

The assembly of animals that appear are slightly different from the beginning of Act I. There are no wildebeests or adult elephant, only two zebras instead of three, nine gazelles instead of twelve, and half of the bird performers instead of four. Only the baby elephant, the rhino, the giraffes, three cranes, the cheetah, and the birds appear as poles on cranes as kites.

Other versions

The song was re-recorded in 2003 by the Disney Channel Circle of Stars, a group of actors and actresses who have appeared in Disney Channel television series and original movies, for the album Disneymania 2. The line-up was significantly different when their next rerecording, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes", was released two years later.

In 2017 American boyband 98° recorded a cover version of the song to help promote a re-release of The Lion King on Blu-ray as part of the Disney Signature Collection. The single was released as a digital download on 22 September 2017.

The song was remixed by Mat Zo which was released in the album Dconstructed on 22 April 2014.

Music video

The music video for "Circle of Life" was directed by American film composer, producer and film director Richard Baskin. It was published on YouTube in November 2017. The video has amassed over 13 million views as of November 2021.

Opening of song

The song is well known for its opening line, sung by South African composer Lebo M. in Zulu. Due to the difficulty to pronounce the lyrics for English speakers, they are often mispronounced. The Zulu version of the lyrics are:

 
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama
Ingonyama siyo nqoba
Ingonyama
Ingonyama nengw enamabala

Which translates to English as:

Here comes a lion, father
Oh yes it’s a lion
Here comes a lion, father
Oh yes it’s a lion
A lion we’re going to conquer
A lion
A lion and a leopard come to this open place

In popular culture

Due to the film's universal impact on pop culture, the song is often referenced in other media.

"Circle of Life" was referenced in the song "Colors of the Wind" which was composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for Disney's 33rd animated motion picture Pocahontas. The song's lyrics are about animism and respecting nature.

In one of Disney's many self-references, "The Circle of Life" appeared as a false beginning of the film Chicken Little, when Buck was trying to open the movie.

It is currently the main theme song for Disney's Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World. Epcot featured a cinema-type film called Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable from 1995 to 2018, with Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba discussing environmental topics.

At the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association, President Barack Obama jokingly claimed he was going to show his "long-form birth video", spoofing Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories that alleged he was born outside of the United States, rather than in his actual birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii. The opening chant was played from the film, and Simba was seen being lifted to the skies.

New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes started using the song as his walk-up music during the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley began using the song as his walk up music after the All Star Break in the 2019 Major League Baseball season, debuting the song in what turned out to be a multi-HR game for him.

Charts

Certifications

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