The Lion King is still the highest grossing hand-drawn animated movie in film history. Even more than fifteen years after its original release and now converted into a 3D film which adds depth to the already awesome visuals, it is a beautifully rendered and wonderfully entertaining story of good versus evil set in one particular animal kingdom in Africa. A family film which like Bambi doesn’t shy away from death as a part of existence and one with a decidedly modern slant (fart jokes, modern vernacular, allusions to film classics like Taxi Driver and In the Heat of the Night), the film may be among the highest grossing of Disney's vaunted titles, and it may have sold the most home video units in history, but it's not the apex of Disney's art. A fine film loaded with great music, inventive comedy, and a retooling of a plot that Shakespeare found useful for Hamlet, The Lion King is a fine, fun film.
The Lion King 3D: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 88 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Review Date: September 28, 2011
Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a youth, Matthew Broderick in maturity) is the newly born son of lion king Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and thus is next in line for the throne. Ambitious and moody Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) wants the throne for himself so he engineers the massacre of Mufasa and self-imposed banishment of Simba clearing the way for his usurpation of the throne. While growing into young adulthood and facing his born responsibility to his father and himself, Simba is instructed by two of Disney’s most memorable creations: Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the wart hog (Ernie Sabella). Meanwhile, Uncle Scar has pillaged the kingdom and left the inhabitants at the mercy of wild hyenas. It’s up to Simba to rid the kingdom of these enemies and restore grace and beauty to the land.
The story of Simba’s journey toward maturity (screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton) is rendered impressively through the crack Disney animators and accompanied by a bouncy song score by Elton John and Tim Rice and starkly ominous and gloriously rich underscoring by Hans Zimmer. It’s a song score that contains only one dud (the time wasting “Be Prepared”) and four real winners. It’s no coincidence that one of those songs “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” won the Best Song Oscar and Hans Zimmer’s natively stylish and grand underscore won the Best Original Score Oscar. The score and songs are among the movie’s most vivid accomplishments.
The voice actors employed to give life to the Disney artists’ creations are real artists themselves, and the characters here are as real and memorable as any flesh and blood movie characters. Jeremy Irons gives real menace to Uncle Scar, an oily, oozing kind of sneakiness that is perfect for his underhanded tactics. James Earl Jones, on the other hand, imbues Mufasa with the nobility and grace that bespeaks his greatness. Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick respectively voice Simba in his youthful and more mature personas while Robert Guillaume and Rowan Atkinson do wonderfully funny and authentic work as Rafiki and Zazu respectively, both allies to Simba.
The keys to the movie’s most hilarious and memorable characters, though, come from four actors. The arguing hyenas provide the wicked comic relief, and as voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, they are very funny indeed. Even more unforgettably hysterical, though, are Ernie Sabella and (supremely!) Nathan Lane as Simba’s jungle buddies. Their comic timing is razor sharp, and the animators have used the actors’ distinctive voices to build characters that jump right off the screen and into your heart. And it’s nice to see the humor spread around to many hands rather than burdening one actor (for example, Robin Williams in Aladdin) with the overwhelming comic responsibilities.
Dazzling animation abounds in The Lion King. The combination of the multiplane camera and advanced (for the time) computer animation techniques make for a mesmerizing look to the film, both in simple overhead shots which stress the vastness of Pride Rock and its environs and in complex stampedes (the storm of wildebeests is still an awesome set piece), frenetic production numbers (“Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is this movie’s “Be Our Guest” Busby Berkeley-style production number), and entire sequences (the elephant graveyard sequence, the film’s most atmospheric single scene and one of the film’s real highlights).
3D implementation – 3.5/5
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is explicit throughout with every animated line solid and impressive, and colors are richly saturated and often mesmerizing. The transfer has some trouble with noisy blues in the sky during the “Hakuna Matata” number, and banding can be glimpsed in the backgrounds occasionally. Black levels, however, are impressively dark, and the many greens, reds, and oranges are rendered with surety. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Because the film was not originally animated with 3D in mind and has simply been converted to 3D for a brief theatrical run and this home video 3D release, the use of 3D here is rather understated. There’s certainly plenty of depth in the image, and when the camera goes high and we see vast expanses of land, the enormity of the landscapes can be truly impressive. So, too, is a later scene when Simba is running through the wasted jungle brush which offers enormous pleasure to watch in 3D. There’s an adequate amount of multiple plane placements that give the 3D images some complexity (Beauty and the Beast in 3D seemed to have more of this). And, of course, there are no outward projections apart from Zazu’s tail feathers momentarily seeming to approach the edge of the frame when the camera moves behind him. With all of the tusks available on various jungle inhabitants, the artists could have had a 3D field day if the film had been originally drawn with this in mind.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is impressive from the first moment of the film until the last moment. Hans Zimmer’s score soars all around us constantly, and the orchestrations have been laid out to permit multiple channels to complement the singing of the principals. Dialogue has been masterfully recorded and while mostly residing in the center channel occasionally finds itself in other channels for an effective directionalized experience. The ambient effects, from crickets chirping in the high grass to the thundering hooves of the wildebeests, have been expertly placed around the soundfield for utmost aural intensity. The LFE channel certainly is kept busy in the sound mix as well with lots of deep bass in the mix.
The 3D disc in the set contains a 3D trailer for Cars 2.
The 2D Blu-ray disc contains the following bonus features:
The audio commentary is contributed by producer Don Hahn and directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. It’s a lively reminiscence by the three men and offers many anecdotes related to the making of the movie (many of which turn up in other bonus features).
The Blu-ray is Second Screen ready.
A funny blooper reel runs 3 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
“Pride of The Lion King” is a 38-minute remembrance of the project by the film’s two directors, its producer, actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, lyricist Tim Rice, composer Hans Zimmer, plus various other Disney mainstays (both past and present) and director Julie Taymor who conceived and mounted the show on Broadway about both the screen and stage versions of The Lion King. This retrospective look at the coming together of important industry artists in presented in 1080i.
“The Lion King: A Memoir” has producer Don Hahn offering his own memories and some home movies shot at the time of the film’s two year production as he talks about what making the film meant to him. It runs 19 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
There are five deleted/extended scenes (with voice tracks and rough drawings) with introductions by directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff which may be watched individually or in a 14 ½-minute grouping. They’re in 1080p.
The movie can be played with sing-along mode activated which places highlighted song lyrics on the screen.
“The Morning Report” animated song is offered separately and runs for 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
The interactive art gallery offers the viewer a step-through experience with hundreds of drawings divided into four sections: Character Design, Visual Development, Storyboards, and Layouts and Backgrounds.
Disney’s Virtual Vault (powered via BD-Live) was another menu selection under the special features, but it was not operational during the review period. One day after filing this review, I attempted to access this section on a PS3 and was successful. As with the Blu-ray of Fantasia, the original DVD features have been housed on-line and must be accessed via BD-Live. Once one or more of these featurettes have been selected, they download from the net and then appear in a reduced-size window on your screen. Here are the contents:
“Making of “The Morning Report” (3 ¼ minutes)
3 additional deleted scenes: “Bug Football” ((1 minute), “Hakuna Matata” (2 ½ minutes), “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” (1 ¾ minutes).
Musical Journey section contains the following:
- Musical Inspiration (3 ¾ minutes)
- Landmark Songwriting (3 ¼ minutes)
- Orchestral Color (4 ¼ minutes)
- Scoring Emotion (3 minutes)
- African Influence (3 ¾ minutes)
- Full Circle (1 ¾ minutes)
- “Circle of Life” music video (5 minutes)
Stage Journey section contains the following:
- Musical Origins (4 minutes)
- Screen to Stage (3 ¾ minutes)
- Musical Texture (3 ½ minutes)
- Setting the Stage (2 ½ minutes)
- Leaps of Fantasy (3 ¾ minutes)
Film Journey section contains the following:
- Origins (6 minutes)
- Production Research Trip (2 ¼ minutes)
- Art: African Influence (4 minutes)
- Reflections (5 ¼ minutes)
- Storyboards (2 minutes)
- Character Design (7 character discussions in all)
- Computer Animation (4 ½ minutes)
Story Journey section contains the following:
- Story Origins (4 ½ minutes)
- Timeless Themes (4 minutes)
- Story Comes to Life (3 ¼ minutes)
A storyboard to film comparison lasts 4 minutes
Early Concepts: Timon and Pumbaa (4 minutes), Find Simba (3 minutes), Simba’s Preservation (4 minutes)
Abandoned Scene: “Warthog Rhapsody” (4 minutes)
The disc has 1080p trailers for Cars 2, Lady and the Tramp, The Muppets, Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games, Treasure Buddies, The Lion King, and African Cats.
The third disc in the set is the DVD edition of the movie.
The fourth disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
Also enclosed in the set is a booklet offering a table of contents for the discs in the set.
4.5/5 (not an average)
The Lion King isn’t Disney’s greatest artistic achievement, but it’s provided much entertainment for millions of people for many, many years. Looking and sounding mostly sensational in both 3D and 2D, the set may not have the complexity of bonus features found on other Disney milestones, but fans will enjoy what’s offered here. Recommended!