A grand, epic experience that I still remember seeing in the theater back in 1994, "The Lion King" remains one of Disney's most commerical animated features, causing a worldwide sensation upon release. A film that blends humor, heartbreak and drama beautifully, "The Lion King" sticks with both young and old, who can both find something to enjoy in the film's memorable tale.
The first Disney animated feature to not be taken from a prior story, "Lion King" is instead inspired by several sources, including "Hamlet". The film focuses on Simba, a young lion cub who is the son of Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and, as such, the heir to the throne of King of the jungle. However, not everyone is so pleased; Simba's uncle, Scar (Jeremy Irons) had previously sought out the throne for himself. Assisted by a pack of bumbling hyenas, Scar sets out to steal himself Simba's place and send the young cub into the wilds, carrying the belief that he was responsible for his father's death.
Joined by the pairing of a meerkat and warthog (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), Simba sets out to confront his feelings of guilt and learn about the responsibilities that face him as he enters into adulthood. Warned by lioness Nala (Moira Kelly) of Scar's plans, Simba begins the trek back to reclaim his rightful place on the throne.
Although the shift had begun slightly towards computer animation (some computer assistance was used in "Lion King"), this film offers some of the most remarkable hand-drawn animation in studio history, with impressive detail and depth to the vast scenes on the African plains. Otherwise, Elton John and Tim Rice's songs are generally quite memorable (especially the opener, "Circle of Life") and Hans Zimmer provides an African/tribal-themed score that provides atmosphere, tone and heightens the emotions of many scenes.
The actors providing the voices also do fine work. I'm still not entirely sure if Matthew Broderick was a commanding enough presence as the voice of adult Simba, but he creates an involving character. Jonathan Taylor Thomas capably plays both the energetic curiosity, guilt, humor and drama of Simba. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella make what could have seemed like toy-ready sidekicks into characters that are wonderfully memorable. Last, but certainly not least, Jeremy Irons turns Scar into a classic Disney villian and one of the more believably threatening in an animated feature.
Overall, "The Lion King" is certainly one of Disney's classic features and has arrived with quite a DVD presentation. Viewers will be very pleased with the audio/video quality, although the extras could have been more detailed and presented in a more organized fashion. Viewers can also choose to watch the film with or without the new song, "Morning Report".
VIDEO: "The Lion King" is presented here in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC). The picture is a very nice step above the already terrific Platinum Series DVD. The release offers superb clarity, with remarkably crisp small details.
The transfer is essentially without flaw. The print used is in exceptional condition, with no specks, marks or other debris. Edge enhancement does not appear, nor do any instances of pixelation. Colors are fantastic, remaining bold and punchy throughout, with excellent saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "The Lion King" is presented here in DTS-HD 7.1.Considering the fact that the original soundtrack is nearly ten years old, it stands up pretty well. A highly regarded mix, the old soundtrack is fairly aggressive with the music and boasts a decent dynamic range. However, one gets the feeling that the low bass doesn't go as deep as it could and potential instances of surround use don't occur, both likely because the filmmakers thought that both might frighten younger viewers.
Surrounds are put to exceptional use to deliver ambience, creatures flying/running by and other major/minor effects. The audio presentation extends the action further out into the listening space and the score and songs also seem to be pulled further out into the room, as well.
The audio presentation boasts very nice dynamic range, with crisper highs and considerably deeper low end. Stampedes or the footfalls of the heavier animals are now thunderous. Hans Zimmer's score also now boasts more impact and the film's audio as a whole wraps the viewer up in the emotions of the story more than it did previously.
EXTRAS: This is the main supplement on the first disc and includes discussion from participants director Rob Minkoff, director Roger Allers and producer Don Hahn. The three have been recorded together and deliver an absolutely entertaining track. The three have a great deal of fun and freely joke about some of the situations in the film and stories from the production. While they do make an effort to keep things light and fun, they still manage to offer a superb amount of information, talking about concept designs, recording with the actors, deleted or changed elements and the animation production process. They don't go too "technical" and when they do, they almost always define what they're talking about and overall, really cover a remarkable amount of ground in the 90 minutes. The audio commentary can be turned on via the audio set-up menu.
The other core elements of the extras section are two very nice documentary pieces: "Pride of the Lion King" and "The Lion King: A Memoir". The latter, a look at the film's creation from producer Don Hahn, is particularly enjoyable. A much deeper look into Hahn's career and Disney animation is available via the film "Waking Sleeping Beauty, available on DVD.
We also get 4 never-before-seen deleted scenes, new bloopers, a deleted song, "The Morning Report" extended scene, gallery and sing-along mode. Promos and a DVD version of the release are also included.
Additional supplemental material is accessible via BD-Live.
Final Thoughts: "The Lion King" remains a beloved effort from Disney and the picture retains the same power and spirit that it had when originally released. The Blu-Ray edition offers wonderful audio/video quality and is certainly recommended for fans.
The Film A