The idea behind Songland is to shine a spotlight on an often-overlooked aspect of hit songs — writing and production. And that’s why Ryan Tedder might just be the perfect person to be on the show. The OneRepublic frontman has had amazing success (including Grammy wins) as both a writer and a producer. And, as he told us, it’s a craft that he’s studied very, very meticulously over the years, bringing a blend of both art and science to his projects. (Click on the media bar below to hear Ryan Tedder)
As someone who’s both written and produced plenty of hit songs, Ryan Tedder knows more than most about the art and craft of songwriting. And, having worked with artists in a wide variety of genres, that makes him perfect for NBC’s Songland He says he’s impressed by the amount of ground the show and its songwriters cover, the kind of big-name talent that’s gotten involved, and the amount of exposure the show’s contestants are already getting. (Click on the media bar below to hear Ryan Tedder)
It’s not as if Elton John was a struggling singer or songwriter when The Lion King came along in the early ’90s — he’d already been an international superstar for two decades. But when he got that fateful call from lyricist Tim Rice, who’d been hired by Disney to write The Lion King’s lyrics and was looking for a collaborator, John could hardly believe his good fortune. When we spoke with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, he told us that call was a life-changing event. (Click on the media bar below to hear Elton John)
Back in the 1990s, it was a real coup for Disney and the producers of The Lion King to get Elton John on board to write the music for the film. After all, the man was a living legend with 24 Top 10 hits (and seven chart-toppers) to his credit. And the last time he’d agreed to do a movie score was back in 1970, when he wrote the music for Friends before he became famous. So it was a big deal when John signed on for The Lion King, and the results were magical — three of the five Oscar nominees for Best Song came from the movie, with Can You Feel The Love Tonight winning the category. With John’s old songs — and a couple of new ones — featured once again in the new remake, he reflected back on the original movie and its success. (Click on the media bar below to hear Elton John)
The remake of The Lion King and John’s own story, Rocketman, are both still playing in theaters.
It’s been 11 years since Katy Perry kissed a girl and became a pop superstar. Since then, she’s sold more than 40 million albums and 125 million singles worldwide. Considering she’s only 34 now, you’d think the American Idol judge had a pretty easy time achieving success. However, the way she tells it, the story was much, much different. Her path to fortune and fame was actually a pretty rocky road, she says, including a low point where she was dropped by her label! But she told us all those tough times actually made her much stronger over the long run. (Click on the media bar below to hear Katy Perry)
Perry’s current single Never Really Over is currently climbing the music charts.
Though its characters certainly look realistic, it would be a mistake to call the newly reimagined The Lion King a “live-action version” of the 1994 Disney classic (as some have done), when it’s really just a different form of animation. But most people will just be calling it “spectacular.”
The Lion King was arguably the high point of Disney’s ’90s renaissance, so director Jon Favreau and his crew didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. They just made it a shinier wheel. The story and characters are essentially unchanged from the original, but they’re painted on an entirely new canvas. And it’s the canvas that’s the real star of the movie.
More than any of the voice actors’ work, more than any of the animators’ work, I found myself most impressed with the breathtaking landscapes filmed by Favreau and his MVP, famed cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. These stunning shots, filmed in Kenya, provide a superior backdrop for the animators, who respond with top-notch work of their own. Clearly, countless hours have been spent studying the biomechanics of these jungle animals and their rippling, sinewy muscles, because there are times when it’s easy to wonder whether these animals are real or animated.
This heightened realism means the fights and stampedes are a lot more intense than the original, and even the emotional impact of Mufasa’s death is greater when you see young Simba nestle himself into his father’s still-warm body, his face showing carefully nuanced anguish, rather than old-style cartoon sadness.
Having voiced Mufasa in the original, James Earl Jones and his classy baritone return to provide a tangible link between the old and new versions, and his presence here is welcome. Among the new voices, Seth Rogen is the standout as Pumbaa, the malodorous warthog. Beyoncé brings a lot more sass to the grown-up Nala than in the original movie, but she also provides one of the film’s rare missteps — her melisma-laden performance of Can You Feel The Love Tonight? is far too over-the-top compared to her duet partner, Donald Glover’s. There’s no denying Beyoncé’s talents as a singer, but her vocal acrobatics throw the duet’s balance jarringly out of whack.
(The film’s other holdover songs, mostly produced by Pharrell Williams, have been pretty faithfully updated. A new Beyoncé track, Spirit, is nice but not as memorable as the original songs, and another new addition — a new Elton John song that plays over the end credits — finds the Rocketman rocker sounding surprisingly spry at age 72.)
As with the other recent Disney remakes, there have been a few updates to bring the films in step with today’s culture. In addition to Nala being a much more feisty and ferocious female than the 1994 version, Rogen’s Pumbaa has a made-for-social media moment when he proudly stands up to body-shaming bullies.
Knowing that the current crop of Disney do-overs are inevitably judged against their predecessors, it feels like Favreau has gone out of his way to pay homage to the original, as some of its most iconic shots have been painstakingly reproduced here. But again, with the story remaining the same, the key difference here is the cinematography and animation. And while the original certainly has that old-school Disney animation charm, this new version is absolutely spectacular in its realism. It’s clearly the best of the Disney remakes so far, and this new version will likely stand beside the original as a classic.