Circle of Life

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"Circle of Life"
Circle of Life.jpg
Artwork for UK CD single, also used internationally
Single by Elton John
from the album The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released9 August 1994
FormatCD, vinyl record (7"), audio cassette
Santa Monica, California
April 1994
BOP Recording Studios
Mmabatho, South Africa[1]
Elton John singles chronology
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight"
"Circle of Life"
Audio sample
Film version
Audio sample
Broadway version

"Circle of Life"[note 1] is a song from Disney's 1994 animated film The Lion King. Composed by Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice,[3] the song was performed by Carmen Twillie (the deep female lead vocals) and Lebo M. (opening Zulu vocals) as the film's opening song.[4] 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."[5] 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,"[6][7] the latter of which won the award.[6] 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.[8] This new version of the song was performed by Lindiwe Mkhize, the actress who performed as Rafiki in the stage adaptation of the movie in London from 2005 to 2018.[9] However, the new version also retains the original Zulu opening vocals by Lebo M from the 1994 film.

Theatrical version[edit]

Rafiki lifts Simba into the air with Mufasa and Sarabi looking on, in the West End transfer of The Lion King musical.

Act I[edit]

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[edit]

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 II. There are no wildebeests and 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[edit]

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.[10] The single was released as a digital download on 22 September 2017.[11]

The song was remixed by Mat Zo which was released in the album DCONSTRUCTED on 22 April 2014.[12]

International versions[edit]

Movie version[edit]

When the movie was first released in 1994, it numbered collectively 28 versions worldwide, including a special Zulu version made in South Africa. This was not just the only Zulu dubbing ever made by Disney, but also the only one made in any African language, other than Arabic.[13]. Over the years, the number of official versions has increased to 45 official versions, including a couple of re-recordings of the pre-existing Arabic and Polish versions, where the song was re-dubbed, but not the rest of the movie, to which some unofficial versions have been added by local TV stations and studios in their local languages: namely Arabic (TV version), Armenian, Crimean Tatar, Kabardian and Nogai.[14]

Jocelyn B. Smith (German) received a gold record as an award for her performance.

Musical version[edit]

The song has been recorded in multiple languages.

In popular culture[edit]

Due to the film's impact on popular culture, the song "Circle of Life" is often referenced in other media.

The opening to The Lion King was parodied in an episode of the 1990s cartoon Animaniacs, in which the theme of "Circle of Life" was parodied with "Surprises in Life", with vocals by Jim Cummings and Cree Summer as lead singer.

The Tenth Doctor finds himself subconsciously quoting "Circle of Life" during a confrontation with the Sycorax leader in the 2005 Christmas special of the revived Doctor Who series, "The Christmas Invasion".

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.

In the 1998 movie A Bug's Life Hopper explains to Flit's colony that his protection in exchange for food is one of those "Circle of Life" kind of deals.

South Park did a parody song called "The Circle of Poo" that shows the endless circle of food and defecation in the episode "A Very Crappy Christmas".

It is currently the main theme song for Disney's Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort. Disney's 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' Dinner, President Barack Obama jokingly claimed he was going to show his long-form birth video, spoofing an earlier controversy about refusing to show his long-form birth certificate to prove he was, in fact, born in the United States. The opening chant was played from the film, and Simba was seen being lifted to the skies. This was used to poke fun at Obama's alleged Kenyan heritage.[17]

New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes started using the song as his walk-up music during the 2016 MLB season.[18]

Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley began using the song as his walk up music after the All Star Break in the 2019 MLB season, debuting the song in what would be his 10 major league multi-HR game. [19]

The Japanese band Da Pump recorded a cover version of the song in 2003.

It is used in the Modern Family pilot when Mitch and Cam introduce Lily to the family, and then again later in the series to introduce Hayley and Dylan's twins.

On 28 May 2017, the song was used in Stadio Olimpico during Francesco Totti's farewell, after the winning match of AS Roma against Genoa C.F.C. for 3-2.

The opening sequence was parodied during Robin's nightmare sequence in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

Charts and certifications[edit]


  1. ^ The Hal Leonard Corporation publishes the song by the fuller title of "Circle of Life (with Nants'Ingonyama)."[2]. It appears on The Legacy Collection reissue and the soundtrack of the 2019 remake as "Circle of Life / Nants' Ingonyama".
  1. ^ Josh Wilmes, ed. (24 May 1994). "The Lion King: Film Notes". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  2. ^ Viagas, Robert (ed.). The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2008 – May 2009: Fifth Annual Edition. Hal Leonard Corporation. p.174
  3. ^ Rosenthal 2001, p. 379.
  4. ^ Rosental 2001, p. 380.
  5. ^ Walt Disney Company. (1998). The new illustrated treasury of Disney songs (5th ed.). Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hal Leonard. p. 19. ISBN 0-7935-9365-4.
  6. ^ a b Willis 2000, p. 52.
  7. ^ "1994 Academy Awards Nominees and Winners by Category". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  8. ^ Child, Ben (28 November 2018). "Is Disney's remake of The Lion King too nostalgic?". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Disney Reveals the Tracklist For 2019 'The Lion King' Soundtrack". Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  10. ^ "98 Degrees Singing 'Circle of Life' Is the '90s Throwback We Didn't Know We Needed". Disney. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Circle of Life (From "The Lion King") – Single". iTunes Store. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  12. ^ DisneyMusicVEVO (30 April 2014), DCONSTRUCTED - Circle of Life (from "The Lion King") (Mat Zo Remix), retrieved 18 July 2019
  13. ^ "Zulu". Charguigou. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  14. ^ a b "TLK Soloists". Charguigou.
  15. ^ "Série "MPB na ABL"apresenta espetáculo "Zezé Motta – 45 anos de carreira"" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Letras. 9 August 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  16. ^ "TLK Soloists". Charguigou. Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Obama lampoons Trump, releases 'birth video' at annual dinner". CNN. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  18. ^ "Yoenis Cespedes walks up to 'Circle of Life,' hits walk-off homer to a guy in a Simba costume". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  19. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart – Week Ending 12 Feb 1995". (original document published by ARIA). Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  21. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  22. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  23. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  24. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2648." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  25. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 2635." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  26. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  27. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (24.–29.11 '94)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 24 November 1994. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  28. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Circle of Life". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  29. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 2, 1995" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  30. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  31. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Top 40 Singles.
  32. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  33. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Singles Top 100.
  34. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Swiss Singles Chart.
  35. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  36. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  37. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  38. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  39. ^ "RPM Top 100 Hit Tracks of 1994". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  40. ^ "RPM Top 100 AC tracks of 1994". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  41. ^ "Årslista Singlar – År 1994" (in Swedish). Topplistan. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  42. ^ "Top 100 Singles – Jahrescharts 1995" (in German). GfK Entertainment. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  43. ^ "Årslista Singlar – År 1995" (in Swedish). Topplistan. Archived from the original on 16 February 2016. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  44. ^ "Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1995" (in German). Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  45. ^ "British single certifications – Elton John – Circle of Life". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Circle of Life in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  46. ^ "British single certifications – Carmen Twille – Circle of Life". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Circle of Life in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  47. ^ "American single certifications – Carmen Twille – Circle of Life". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 23 March 2017. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 


  • Rosenthal, Elizabeth (2001). His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John. Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0-8230-8893-5.
  • Willis, John (2000). Screen World 1995 Film Annual. Volume 46. Applause Books. ISBN 978-1-55783-233-7.

External links[edit]