If the public is tiring of Disney doggedly remaking all of its old animations in live action format, finally some original content is coming out of the project as well. In a remarkable feat of cross-pollination, Beyoncé has now made a companion film to the companion album that she recorded to accompany the Lion King remake.
The Lion King: The Gift, released a year ago, was not a soundtrack album but a collection of new songs inspired by the movie which brought together a huge range of intercontinental black talent: Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z shared song space with Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Moonchild Sanelly of South Africa and Oumou Sangaré of Mali.
Now Beyoncé has expanded the experiment much further. Black is King, released on the Disney+ streaming service this morning, is not a movie with a clear plot but a “visual album” in the manner of her Lemonade collection from 2016. The songs from The Gift, and James Earl Jones’s spoken interludes from The Lion King, are given sumptuous, breathtaking imagery. Beyoncé herself, who wrote, directed and executive produced the film, appears in an extraordinary selection of spectacular outfits, culminating in an explosive dance sequence in a temple for My Power.
What story there is echoes The Lion King: a young prince gets into some trouble and must embark on a long journey before returning to claim his throne. The themes are inner strength and the meaning of “kingship”. The imagery is consistently positive: sequins in the desert, a leopard-print Rolls-Royce, an all-black Busby Berkeley swimming pool sequence.
In one of many poetic linking speeches, Beyoncé says: “We have always been wonderful… We were beauty before they knew what beauty was.” With this vivid celebration, she goes way beyond saying Black Lives Matter to showing the dazzling inspiration of her ancestry.