The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride Special EditionStudio:Disney Year:2004RunTime:81 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.66:1 (pillarboxed)Audio:5.1 DTS English, 5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD French, 5.1 DD Spanish Subtitles:English for the hearing impairedSpecialFeatures:Music Play List, Feature-Fact Lesson, One-by-One Animated Short, Games, Find-out-why shorts, Lots About Lions featurette, Making Of Featurette, Love will find a way music video, more… ReleaseDate:August 31, 2004 The Feature... Ok, actually it's not as bad as I had thought. The "regular" DVD has been out for ages so chances are you've already got your own opinion of the quality of the story. My opinion? Well, not anything near the classic status of the original movie...and not as entertaining as the Lion King 1 1/2, but it's watchable, has some nice moments, and by and large serves its purpose well which is to have something to put on for the kids. If the original Lion King was a (loose) adaptation of Hamlet, the Lion King 2 is a (loose) adaptation of Romeo and Juliet...only with a happy ending. To be honest, I was a little impressed with the general theme of the story...about forgiveness and reconciliation...and it was nice to see the "good guys" have a lesson to learn just like the "bad guys". Those of you who only collect "classic" Disney out there won't be interested. But those of you (like me) who get weak and want your collections to encompass a broader range of Disney Animation might enjoy it. And if you've got kids and you'd like something new to add to their list of movies-on-demand The Lion King 2 will fit the bill nicely. Picture... Virtually perfect except for some minor edge enhancement which I could clearly see from my 1.6 screen-width viewing distance. Animation like this really makes a mess with EE because you've already got hard-line edges to everything and now you're going to add ringing. Other than this one distraction however (and those with smaller displays or who sit relatively farther away might not notice), the image was without fault as far as I could tell. I saw no color banding, no compression noise or video "noise" of any kind for that matter, and colors and image purity were simply outstanding. It's also worth noting that while not quite up to the sumptuous caliber of animation of the original "feature", this sequel comes very close and does not look like a made-for-TV cartoon. The quality of the animation is superb, and the quality of the image on this DVD, except for the mild EE, does it justice. The image 1.66:1 image is 16x9 encoded and on my projector (which has virtually no overscan running DVI) the vertical side-bars on the left and right of the image to maintain the 1.66:1 aspect ratio are very visible. This isn't a problem, but I just made a mental note while watching the movie that most other 1.66:1 16x9 movies tend to have much less visible pillarboxing. My guess is that it's because this transfer really is 1.66:1 where most other "1.66:1" 16x9 transfers cheat a little and are actually closer to 1.78:1. I do have to say that I'm still confused by this choice of aspect ratio...since encoding the 1.66:1 area in 16x9 doesn't shrink the "letterboxing bars" for 4x3 viewers...it would seem to me that the animators might as well work with a native 1.78:1 (16x9 full-frame) image so that it would fill the HDTV screen completely. I guess if you were going to P/S the image for a 4x3 transfer you're cutting off less to make it happen...but it would hardly make a difference. Ok...just me mentally musing about the curiosity of the 1.66:1 aspect ratio which seems to be Disney's favorite "family friendly" choice. In any case, it's a gorgeous 16x9 image...so don't let my ramblings get you off track... Detail is strong, black level solid, grayscale dynamics are unrestrained, and color saturation is rich and vivid. If Disney could learn to keep that high-frequency boost from getting into the picture, the image would be virtually perfect. As it is, it's quite the "oooohhhh....aaahhhhh" experience on my front-projection system to be sure. Picture: 4.75/5 Sound... Audio is equally magnificent. There is both an Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 English track...and this is one case where I had to really listen hard to hear a difference. That usually means that the Dolby Digital track is presented without much monkey-business (like restricted dynamic range, or dialog normalization). The DTS does edge out slightly however...after compensating for a minor level difference it just seemed to be a tad more dynamic...but like I said this is really splitting hairs. The 5.1 mix is your typical "good" 5.1 mix with a wide spread for musical presentations (of which there are several...not so memorable...in this film), good directional dialog when characters move around on screen, and surround effects are employed effectively when appropriate. No complaints...and while the audio isn't nearly as aggressive as the "enhanced for home theater mix" on the original LK disc, it's a very respectable, well-recorded/mixed/mastered soundtrack that hit me as "reference" quality in a slightly reserved way. Sound: 5/5 Special Features... Not as loaded as a 2-disc SE would lead you to believe...and most of the stuff is really geared towards young children and won't really appeal to adult collectors. However, one feature in particular almost justifies the disc purchase; I'll flag that one below (The "One by One" animated short). Disc 1 [*]Music Selection Play: You can use this feature to skip straight to the musical selections which play from the feature film...however you also get the addition of bouncing-ball style lyrics to sing along. Great for kids, and it would be even greater if the songs were good... [*]Backstage Disney: Lion Kings' Matter of Facts: I'm not sure what the best way to "name" this feature would be...but what happens is while you're watching the movie, occasionally you get a pop-up blurb that presents some interesting (well, in theory) fact about something on screen. Most of the facts are nature-related...teaching kids facts about lions, African wildlife, etc. I thought it was kind of cool and I think that kids will enjoy it. It's a rather creative use of what I assume is the subtitle feature (which is graphical in nature allowing a broader application than just "words" in typical subtitle form). [/list] Disc 2 [*]One By One Animated Short: Really, really cool. I'd buy the disc just for this. This is a wonderful animated short about 6 minutes in length that is overlaid onto the "One By One" track from the Lion King "Rhythm of the Pridelands" soundtrack album (though this version of the song is slightly different, though still performed by Lebo M). You see some poor African village children making and flying kites...which sounds simple but the effect is rather artful. This feature is 16x9 encoded with 5.1 audio...and are you ready for this???...there is absolutely NO EE whatsoever. A PERFECT video transfer/mastering...loads of natural unfiltered detail and no ringing at all. So that tells you that the EE we see in the feature film is not the fault of some improperly designed MPEG encoder...because this feature escaped unharmed. If you want to see animation on your projector that looks as natural and as film-like as is possible with DVD, this short is the demo piece to use. Marvelous technically and artfully. Good job Disney (not just learn to master your feature presentations with this same level of quality...). [*]Love Will Find a Way (music video): This 4x3 music video is accompanied with a very nice-sounding 5.1 track. It is performed by Kenny Lattimore and Heather Headly and it has a "classy" feel that is several cuts above the typical "teen singer" music video you're normally used to finding. [*]Proud of Simba's Pride (making of featurette): Here is the typical (good) making-of featurette with lots of cast and crew discussion intermixed with behind the scenes facts and special effects, storyboarding, and animation facts to round it out. It's not very long, but it's interesting and I think that the adult crowd would enjoy this too. [*]Lots About Lions: A quick but informative documentary about the life of lions in Africa. Interesting, educational, and most kids should enjoy it. [*]"Find Out Why" shorts: A series of quick shorts that ask and answer science questions...like "Why is there Thunder" or "how does an airplane fly". These are...for lack of a better word..."cute", but also definitely fact-based, and the science-minded among you can rest easy. Kids should enjoy them and I found them fun to wade through (there are a handful covering various topics). [*]Several Games: That's where I reach my limit with reviewing special feature content...but hey...these games are for kids and they'll enjoy them no matter what I'd say anyway. [/list] All Together... Ok, so it's not a Disney Classic. But it's not offensive either...it's entertaining and if you've got to have all the Disney animation out there or you want a new DVD to play for the kids that won't hurt to watch that happens to be a reference 16x9 5.1 title at the same time...look no further. For me personally, it's the special feature short "One By One" that would garner it a place on my shelf. Enjoy!