Circle of Life

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This article is about the Disney song. For other uses, see Circle of life.
"Circle of Life"
Single by Elton John
from the album The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released August 9, 1994
Format CD, vinyl record (7"), audio cassette
Recorded 1993
Santa Monica, California
April 1994
BOP Recording Studios
Mmabatho, South Africa[1]
Genre Pop
Length 4:51
Label Hollywood, Mercury[2]
Writer(s) Elton John (music)
Tim Rice (lyrics)
Producer(s) Hans Zimmer
Mark Mancina
Jay Rifkin
Chris Thomas
Elton John singles chronology
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight"
"Circle of Life"
Music sample
Music sample

"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,[4] the song was performed by Carmen Twillie (the deep female lead vocals) and Lebo M. (opening Zulu vocals) as the film's opening song.[5] 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."[6] Elton John sang a pop version 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 Song in 1994, along with two other songs from The Lion King: "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" [7][8] which won the award.[7]

The song reached #11 in the UK and #18 in the United States, 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.

Theatrical version[edit]

Rafiki lifts Simba into the air with Mufasa and Sarabi looking on, in the original London version of the Lion King musical.

Act I[edit]

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

With the sun rising over the Pride Lands, Rafiki commences the start of the production by beginning the opening chant of the song and summoning the various animals of the surrounding area for baby Simba's presentation. As the first two verses of the musical number end, a representation of Pride Rock appears onstage carrying its two reigning rulers, Queen Sarabi cradling the small puppet representing her newborn cub in her arms. As the choir chants excitedly in the background, Rafiki accompanies them atop Pride Rock to bless the baby prince 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 Simba and the Pridelanders defeated Scar and the hyenas. Rafiki crowns Simba with the mantle of kingship after his victory, and Simba ascends Pride Rock. He gives a mighty roar across the whole kingdom, and the animals come back to the Pridelands to recognize Simba as the rightful king.

The lionesses celebrate the continuing circle of life when they present a newborn cub who is the son of Simba and Nala. The musical ends as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub to all of the animals. A blackout finishes Act II and leads to the curtain call at the end of the second act.

Circle of Stars version[edit]

"Circle of Life"
Single by Disney Channel Circle of Stars
from the album DisneyMania 2
Released October 7, 2003
Format Digital download, CD single
Recorded 2003
Label Walt Disney
Disney Channel Circle of Stars singles chronology
"Circle of Life"
"A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes"

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. The lineup was significantly different when their next rerecording, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," was released two years later.

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.

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 park currently features a cinema-type film called Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable from 1995 with Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba discussing environmental topics at the Walt Disney World Resort as well.

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.[9]


Chart (1994-1995) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[10] 30
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[11] 5
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[12] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[13] 3
Germany (Official German Charts)[14] 10
Ireland (IRMA) 9
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[15] 5
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[16] 13
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[17] 3
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[18] 2
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[19] 11
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[20] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[21] 18
US Mainstream Top 40 (Pop Songs)[21] 26


  1. ^ The Hal Leonard Corporation publishes the song by the fuller title of "Circle of Life (with Nants' Ingonyama)."[3]
  1. ^ Josh Wilmes, ed. (24 May 1994). "The Lion King: Film Notes". Retrieved 2011-07-03. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Viagas, Robert (ed.). The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2008 - May 2009: Fifth Annual Edition. Hal Leonard Corporation. p.174
  4. ^ Rosenthal 2001, p. 379.
  5. ^ Rosental 2001, p. 380.
  6. ^ Walt Disney Company. (1998). The new illustrated treasury of Disney songs (5th ed.). Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hal Leonard. p. 19. ISBN 0-7935-9365-4. 
  7. ^ a b Willis 2000, p. 52.
  8. ^ "1994 Academy Awards Nominees and Winners by Category". Retrieved 2011-07-03. 
  9. ^ "Obama lampoons Trump, releases 'birth video' at annual dinner". (CNN). Archived from the original on December 15, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2014. 
  10. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  11. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  12. ^ "Adult Contemporary Tracks" (PHP). RPM 60 (15). 31 October 1994. ISSN 0315-5994. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "100 Hit Tracks & Where to Find Them" (PHP). RPM 60 (16). 7 November 1994. ISSN 0315-5994. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  14. ^ " – John, Elton Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  15. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Elton John search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  16. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Top 40 Singles.
  17. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Singles Top 100.
  18. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Swiss Singles Chart.
  19. ^ "Archive Chart: 1994-10-08" UK Singles Chart.
  20. ^ "Elton John – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for Elton John.
  21. ^ a b "Elton John: Charts & Awards – Billboard Singles". Allmusic. United States: Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 


  • 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.