Even after more than two decades since its initial release, The Lion King is still the highest grossing hand-drawn animation movie in film history, a beautifully rendered and wonderfully entertaining story of good versus evil set in one particular animal kingdom in Africa.
The Production: 4.5/5
Even after more than two decades since its initial release, The Lion King is still the highest grossing hand-drawn animation movie in film history, 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 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), the film remains among the absolute favorites of Disney’s vaunted titles. 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 film that continues to resonate so many years after it first came into being.
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 choosing not to face 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, and 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 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 overwhelming comic responsibilities for an entire movie.
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 majestic opening “Circle of Life,” the elephant graveyard sequence – the film’s most atmospheric single scene and one of the film’s real highlights, and Timon and Pumbaa’s showstopping “Hakuna Matata” which not only relates their philosophy of life but serves as a bridge from Simba the cub to Simba the young adult).
3D Rating: NA
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Watching this transfer on newer equipment than for its last home video release did not reveal previously seen artifacts like some noisy colors and slight banding which were viewed on an earlier plasma set though this appears to be the same transfer as before. Sharpness is explicit throughout with every animated line solid and impressive, and colors are richly saturated and often mesmerizing in their arrays of kaleidoscopic hues. Black levels, however, are impressively dark, and the many greens, reds, blues, and oranges are rendered with surety. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
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 Oscar-winning score soars all around us constantly, and the orchestrations for the tunes 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 directional 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 impact. The LFE channel certainly is kept busy in the sound mix as well.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: 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).
Visualizing a Villain (2:53, HD): to the soundtrack accompaniment of Jeremy Irons’ “Be Prepared,” artist David Garibaldi creates a painting of evil.
The Recording Sessions (4:46, HD): directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff present brief low resolution video clips of the voice actors recording their roles for the film.
Inside the Story Room (23:42, HD): directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff present five story sequence pitches (in low resolution quality) filmed during story conferences for the movie. The sequences are “Circle of Life,” Simba/Nala being groomed, Simba Takes Nala to Play, “Hakuna Matata,” and the Reflection Pool.
Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation (7:08, HD): in 2011 at Sardi’s, the two actors with producer Thomas Schumacher recall their varied experiences being cast and recording their dialogue.
Blooper Reel (3:44, HD): some outtakes in the sound booth have been meticulously animated to make a very entertaining blooper reel.
“The Morning Report” (2:30, HD): the new song sequence which was added into the extended edition of the movie.
Deleted Scenes (12:42, HD): five scenes may be viewed individually or in montage.
Song Selection (16:49, HD): the five song sequences in the movie can be played individually or together with sing-along lyrics printed on the screen.
Classic Bonus Features Preview (0:50, HD): a preview of the remaining hours of bonus features appearing on previous Lion King DVD and Blu-ray releases that have been relegated to the digital copy of the movie.
Promo Trailer (HD): Coco
Limited Edition Film Frames: three frames of 35mm film of the Pride Rock sequence.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
While The Lion King might not be Disney’s greatest artistic achievement, it’s still provided so much entertainment for millions of people for many, many years. Looking and sounding sensational in this Signature Collection edition, the set offers a few new bonus features but relegates the majority of special feature content to the digital domain. Certainly, fans will enjoy what’s offered here, and the movie is the real jewel in the package. Recommended!