|Packaging & Presentation...|
About a week before my screener copy of The Lion King 1 ½ arrived in the mail, I received an envolope with some printed promotional material about it and included in the mailer was a box of Extra-Strength Gas-X tablets. I think you missed that. I said I received a box of Extra-Strength Gas-X tablets (Softgel-easy to swallow) from Disney. The promotional material featured Pumbaa, who warned me of gas-related dangers associated with the forthcoming sequel to the Lion King. Darn but those Disney PR folks have got to be cool. I want to meet them.
The DVD packaging is what appears to be becoming the new standard for Disney’s higher-end animated DVDs. Just like the original Lion King DVD, we have an nice slip-off outer case with the foldout cover (held in place by a Velcro tab) containing a standard-sized DVD case which houses two DVDs. Inside there’s a somewhat above-bar four-page full-color booklet that contains expected items like a list of the feature’s Chapter stops along with a listing of all the special features on disc 2 etc. Another Disney Trademark: full-color silk-screen art on each DVD finish the presentation in style.
I'm taking a bit longer in my "movie" section this time because I'm assuming that most of you have not seen this feature and are reading this review, at least in part, to figure out whether or not this direct-to-DVD movie is actually any good.
Short Answer: Yep.
Ok so all you purists out there are shuddering at the very *word* “sequel”. Hey now, calm down – breath in…breath out. Remember that Toy Story 2 is a “sequel” too. Ok…so that was a theatrical sequel so maybe sharing that example that didn’t calm your nerves like I had hoped. Ok – so… how bad is the Lion King 1 ½? Well, quite honestly it isn’t bad at all. Well then how good is it? That all depends…
The Lion King 1 ½ is not quite the same caliber as the traditional “Disney Classic” like the original Lion King feature-film. If you have your hopes set on a story and crafted-film on the level of the Little Mermaid or Bambi you’ll be disappointed. But I can also honestly say that Disney’s new The Lion King 1 ½ misses the mark by only a few points, and I would easily rank it above “Atlantis” (at least in simple terms of how much I enjoy watching it) and several other animated feature films that Disney has sent to the big-screen which have received more attention.
The beginning establishes a bit of Timon’s personal history and how he meets up with Pumbaa. This bit of pre-history sets the context for the feature but I found it rather slow to get started (and wasn’t particularly moved by the Meerkats’ tunnel-digging song). What might start off as humor that tastes a bit “dry” or corny starts to take a more developed turn as Timon’s mother (yes, we meet his mother) farewell’s him as he embarks on his journey to find Hakuna-Matata.
The premise of TLK 1 ½ is that rather than building a story that takes place squarely before or after the seminal “Lion King” event, it more-or-less takes place during the original Lion King. Call it a “Behind the scenes story of The Lion King” if you will. Oh yes, all the original actors from TLK provide their character-voices here in TLK 1 ½ (at least all those I noticed) which is critical to this “during-quel” working as well as it does. The animation style is not quite as polished as what you’ve come to expect from full-fledged theatrical releases, but it’s substantially better than any “cartoon” usually aimed at a child audience and comes surprisingly close to the quality of “big screen” animated features. Coupling what is an unconventional and intelligent plot device with, at times, rather sophisticated humor on-the-level with “The Emperor’s New Groove”, the marketers at Disney have handed you a DVD that’s worth taking the risk.
Honestly, at times the humor was spot-on and I found myself rolling with laughter. “He’s wearing a DRESS!!!” (it’ll make sense once you see it ). The irreverent and definitely adult-crowd oriented humor was on par with what I consider to be Disney’s most intelligent hand-animated film to date—The Emperor’s New Groove. The chemistry between Nathan Lane (Timon) and Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) is sparking. I’m tellin’ you, we actually had to rewind the DVD a few times because we missed key dialogue from laughing so hard. Oh, and in case you didn’t figure it out from the “Gas-X” Disney sent me in the mail…the Lion King 1 ½ has some…well…less than discrete fart-humor that is unashamedly South-Park-esque. Love it. note: if fart-humor offends you or your family, beware...
What keeps The Lion King 1 ½ from being ranked right along side its original is that it fumbles the ball just a bit too often to just ignore. Sometimes, right after hitting the ball for a home-run it does something silly or just a bit too predictable that diminishes the thunder and knocks it down a peg. It almost seems like there were two teams of writers…one trying to develop a respectable comedy with some real wit and incisiveness (ala Emperor’s New Groove) and another team of writers who’s job it was to make sure there was stuff that would seem funny for the kids to hold their interest. In my experience, if you do an animated film right…you can pull-off a kid-friendly movie that doesn’t dampen the speed for the grown-up crowd, but I can understand Disney’s quandary – they need this DVD to sell big with the kids and fit the role of “the new babysitting DVD” that they’ll want to watch over and over while at the same time put something together that will impresses and entertain the adult crowd. Just how badly does the Lion King 1 ½ derail to get “kid friendly”? Actually…not very badly and not very often – I’ve probably made is sound worse than it is. But it happens just enough to keep you on your guard while watching (at least for me). Add to that just a few scenes that seemed rather flat and uninspired, and you’ve got a movie that’s really worth watching with some great moments, though it’s not quite a “great” movie in and of itself.
After the disc is released I expect to read comments by some folks who feel that the movie fails the Disney fan on all counts (preaching about the evils of sequels sure to take place) and that I’m offering it far too much praise. I'm equally certain I'll read comments by folks who consider my critical assessments to be too severe and overly-harsh; I quite expect that many die-hard Disney fans who consider themselves reasonable judges of “quality” work will rank The Lion King 1 ½ up there with the very best of Disney’s animated classics. Bottom line for me is that I’d say that it’s “good” and far better than the usual sequel/prequel/duringquel we get and quite worth watching. If my discussion of the film has sounded too critical, understand that given that this is a film that I’ve had the privilege to view before the rest of you (being direct-to-video), I feel a stronger sense of responsibility to approach it from both sides. Please let me leave you with an understanding that I’m very enthusiastic about this DVD and that I feel that the entertainment value of the feature is more-than-worth 77 minutes of your time. Consider it “Recommended” with a little “*” next to it just to clarify for the skeptics among you…
As you might expect, the image quality of this 1.66:1 16x9 encoded DVD is near-reference. Detail is strong. Colors are vibrant without any hint of smear or over-saturation. Black-level and contrast are solid. I could go on and on but it would only be redundant as I’d just be finding different ways to say the same things. The image is truly gorgous. About the only fault I can find is the slightest bit of ringing. This is becoming so ubiquitous with all the (non-Pixar) animated Disney titles that I review that I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’s just a problem with some piece of mastering equipment in Disney’s labs that imparts edge-halos rather than the result of any consciously applied “EE” (in either case, I hope that future animated and live-action titles alike fare better).
Oh, and there were a few instances where I saw pixelization artifacts (MPEG) from my sofa which is at least 2.5 screen-widths back from my monitor. Noticed this most heavily on the musical number where Timon is singing about his dream-home and the animation is very stylized…analogous to the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” number from the original feature (the animation style…not the MPEG noise). Other than a couple of instances like that (wonder how they got through authoring?) the rest of the video is clean and a whistle.
The animators have also done an excellent job of matching the look and feel of this feature film to the original Lion King. Colors, characters, textures and scenery all look very in keeping with original feature, which is an element deserving of praise. About the only weakness in terms of animation is that the movement of some of the characters don’t quite capture that 3-dimensional sense of space and naturalness/smoothness like the more developed character motion in the original Lion King. Backgrounds and scenery are generally excellent if not quite capturing the complexity of the original Lion King animation.
Respectable animation rendered with startling clarity and image fidelity delivered on this DVD.
Picture: 4.75 / 5
Yes folks, while our treasured classic “The Lion King” only offers Dolby Digital to Region 1 viewers, that doesn’t stop the Lion King 1 ½ from going the extra mile (this is actually rather common…many direct-to-video Disney DVD animated features contain a DTS track). Both the 5.1 DD and DTS tracks are excellent…and both sound as if they are sourced from the same basic mix/master (with perhaps a bit of dialog norm. appied to the DD). Differences between the two are slight, and casual listeners (and a few not-so-casual) may not notice much or any difference, though in my system the DTS improved on the DD in the usual ways…rounding out the voices in dialog, refining the sense of decay and acoustic space in the mix, and generally presenting a slightly more natural, cohesive sound. "Subtle" improvements like that have a large subjective impact on my impressions...so in my case once I listened to the DTS I really couldn't feel satisfied going back to the DD.
Bass is strong when appropriate and the mix is very full-bodied. Musical numbers (there are just a few) sound marvelous and make great use of the full width of the front soundstage. Surround use is effective though not as robust as you heard on the “Enhanced for Home Theater” mix on The Lion King DVD. If I don’t go on and on it’s because just like the video…the audio is excellent and I would just be repeating myself to belabor the point!
Sound: 5/ 5
Disney saw fit to bring you a 2-disc SE for this direct-to-video feature and it’s got a reasonable share of grown-up oriented special features along with some definite “for the kids” material…
- [*]Deleted Scenes: On disc one. These are presented in story-board form though often accompanied with real running-time audio. The effect works well. Most of the scenes seemed appropriate to trim for running time and/or continuity though, as usual, there were a few that, once I saw them here, thought “why didn’t they leave that in?!”. Such is the bitter-sweet blessing of getting a chance to view deleted scenes!
[*]Hidden Micky Hunt: On disc one. Kids-thing. Didn’t check it out but please feel free to post your own impressions.
[*]Timon: Beyond the Legend: Witty and intelligent. I quite enjoyed this mockumentary about the “star” Timon as he’s interviewed by non other than Peter Graves. Worth checking out.
[*]Before the Beginning: The making of the Lion King 1 ½: It starts out as the usual self-promoting featurette but quickly evolves into an entertaining mix that manages to poke a little fun at itself. Some nice bits with some of the voice-talent such as Nathan Lane (Timone) and Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa). Enjoyable and worth watching.
[*]Grazing in the Grass Music Video: Performed by Raven. What? Honestly, I don’t get these videos. I mean…this one doesn’t even seem to have anything to do with the movie…except that some of the lyrics sound like they have something to do with the sunshine and the grass. From an outsider’s point of view, it looks like something that marketing folks dreamed up…you know…gotta have that music video for the movie! Basically looks like a generic if harmless feel-good music video with clips of the movie arbitrarily stuck in here and there. If you’re into this “Raven” thing or are just enamored with music videos as a rule check it out…but the rest of you take heed! Oh…the 4x3 video looks nice enough and the 5.1 DD audio sound good as well.
[*][b]Games… There are a lot of kid-oriented games here on disc two. Hey…any of you have kids? Want to let us know how they like these games and what works and what doesn’t? No need for me to guess…let’s here from some of you moms/dads out there with some first-hand knowledge (once you get the disc, of course).
While not quite achieving the heralded “classic” status of the original feature film, The Lion King 1 ½ is far better than the usual “sequel” fare and comes close to the mark – missing it by only a few points. Respectable animation unites with a creative plot device in this latest Disney effort. The result is an unconventional story packed with a sense of humor that is often quite sophisticated; any of you who enjoyed the Emperor’s New Groove will find this new Disney title worth adding to your DVD library. The Lion King 1 ½ is highly entertaining and will serve the 77 minute endeavor you devote to watching it well.