The New 'Lion King' Replaced One of the Original's Best Songs With a Weird Chant
Everyone has their favorite Disney villain song. Whether it's octopus-witches convincing gullible young mermaids to pawn their most valuable asset or musclebound man-children bragging about their daily egg intake, you know you're in for it when the lights dim and those first minor chords come booming out. A villain number is an opportunity to do two things: For the villain to convince the hero or otherwise non-threatening person to make a bad decision, and for the villain to offer up some reasonable-sounding backstory for their methods. They're striking because they're so far removed from the Disney-fied values we've come to expect from these movies, and they're so much fun because, look, it's fun to fantasize about doing bad things sometimes. The 1994 version of The Lion King has one of the best of these in Disney's entire canon, but going into the new "live-action" reboot, be prepared… to be disappointed.
"Be Prepared," Scar's chest-beating call-to-arms in which he convinces an army of hyenas to upset the status quo, was, at first, cut entirely from Jon Favreau's digitally animated version of The Lion King -- and, given what's been done to it, I kinda wish they'd stuck with that plan. For whatever reason -- be it new Scar voicer Chiwetel Ejiofor's reluctance to sing, or giving more time to Beyoncé's new original number "Spirit" (of which maybe two stanzas appear in the movie itself) -- "Be Prepared" has had its innards removed, appearing only as its very first few lines and very last. (The first bit in the new movie, in which Scar is monologuing to himself about the small mental capacities of hyenas, never appears in the original Lion King, which will surely confuse viewers even further.) Here, "Be Prepared" is relegated to a simple chant that lasts for maybe three minutes.
"Be Prepared" is one of the best Disney villain songs, if not the best -- which I know is a tough call, given the dark playfulness of so many others, including the manic horny energy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame's "Hellfire." But "Be Prepared" has a sense of unreality unique to the original Lion King, a swift turn from villainous ballad to rousing rally set amongst green steam and goosestepping hyenas and towers of rock that form themselves into something out of German Expressionism.
But even if "Be Prepared" was in this new movie, it would probably be as disappointing as all the other songs that weren't "Circle of Life," which is the longest stretch of the movie that's a shot-for-shot remake of the original. "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" feels similarly washed out, the moment Simba stomps his feet and the colors go from naturalistic greens and browns to a vibrant wheel of primary shades completely changed in favor of keeping it closer to the colors of the real-life savannah. The weirdest choice is changing the relationship between Scar and the hyenas: In the new version, they don't appear to already know him when he arrives to tell them his plan. Seems like you'd need more than a few lines of dialogue to convince a bunch of strangers to overthrow the government for you.
Of course, there's an element of fantasy in the original "Be Prepared" sequence that wouldn't fit into the "realism" of what the new Lion King is going for. You can't really have a bunch of hyenas dancing around a rocky cave that's swiftly… erupting? Just like you can't have two lion cubs singing about being royalty while a bunch of technicolor birds and beasts stack themselves on top of each other, I guess. But the step away from reality that these songs take is what makes them so wonderful -- and it's also what makes them impossible to translate into a "real" setting in an entertaining way. I understand why "Be Prepared" as we know it would not fit into what Favreau and this new era of Disney are going for. But without the megalomaniacal prancing, the exaggerated flashing eyes, and Babadook smile, Scar is just another bad guy who mumbles meandering jokes to himself while looming behind all our main characters until the anticlimactic moment he strikes. Without "Be Prepared," this Lion King is toothless.