The Lion King review by Mike Long

Disney continues their year end onslaught of animated favorites with the DVD debut of The Lion King. While I still prefer Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King is indeed a modern classic and Disney DVD have given the film a release fit for royalty. In fact, they may have gone a bit too far.

(CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS) The Lion King is set in Africa, and tells the story of a pride of lions who live on Pride Rock. As the film opens, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and his mate, Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair), are welcoming their son, Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), into the world. Simba is introduced to the other animals in the kingdom, who know that he is the heir to the throne. This doesn't sit well with Mufasa's brother, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), who had his sights set on ruling. As Simba begins to grow, and spends his days playing with his friend, Nalla (voiced by Niketa Calame), and learning about the land from his father, Scar begins to hatch a scheme to rid the kingdom of both Mufasa and Simba. Once Scar's plan has been set into motion, Simba flees from Pride Rock, and finds himself in an oasis, where he meets a sassy meerkat named Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and a naive warthog named Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella). Timon and Pumbaa take in Simba, who grows into an adult lion (voiced by Matthew Broderick). As Simba grows up, he realizes that he must return to Pride Rock, face scar, and fulfill his destiny.

The Lion King is the perfect blend of grandiosity and simplicity. The film's story, which involves jealousy, greed, family, and responsibility, is as old as time itself. There are some subtle plot twists here, but for the most part, the plot is very straightforward and easy-to-follow. The majority of the characters are archetypes, and easily identifiable. That's not to say that the characters aren't charming. While the lions are a bit dry, as usual in a Disney film, it's the side-kicks, Timon, Pumbaa, and Mufasa's assistant, Zazu (voiced by Rowan Atkinson), who steal the show.

This familiar tale lends itself to the technical splendor of the film. The animation in The Lion King is simply breathtaking, and there are many multi-plane shots which will have one asking, "How did they do that?" Unlike many Disney films, which include fantastic characters, the real-life animals in this film are given a great amount of detail and actually resemble their flesh-and-blood counterparts (save for Timon, who looks nothing like a real meerkat). The colors and landscapes in the movie are magnificent, and the music by Elton John and Hans Zimmer, with lyrics by Tim Rice, adds another level of emotion to the movie. (Of course, all of this makes the film perfect for DVD.) While some of the film's themes and a few scenes may be too much for younger children, The Lion King is an excellent family film, and a shining example of how an animated film can transcend its genre and becoming something much more.

The Lion King comes roaring onto DVD from DisneyDVD. The DVD contains both the theatrical cut of the film, and a new "Special Edition" which contains a new song, "Morning Report" (which was taken from "The Lion King" stage production). The song is actually incorporated into an existing scene in Chapter 3, and lasts only one minute and twenty-five seconds. (When I discuss the technical aspects of the film, it will pertain to both versions.) The DVD contains an anamorphic transfer of The Lion King and the film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1, according to the DVD box, but it certainly looks more like 1.78:1. The image has been painstakingly restored and looks absolutely perfect. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing basically no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic and the image has an amazing amount of depth. The DVD features a newly created Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix, which is in 5.1 surround sound. This track is incredibly bold and sounds fantastic. The dialogue is always clear and audible and the surround sound is almost non-stop. The bass response on this track rumbles the walls and makes the film a true experience. Oddly enough, the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the DVD sounds incredibly wimpy by comparison. This track offers some surround sound action, but has about half of the volume of the Disney Enhanced Track. Some may balk at the idea of a Disney audio track, but the sound here is awesome.

The Lion King 2-disc DVD set contains an incredible amount of extra features, and it would be an arduous (and most likely, unnecessary) task to list them all, so I’ll just hit the highlights (and lowlights). Disc 1 contains a good audio commentary with producer Don Hahn, and directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, in which they speak at length throughout the film, balancing tech-talk with information about the evolution of the story and anecdotes about the actors. There are 4 unused scenes here, presented in rough animated form or simply storyboards. The bulk of Disc 2 is made up of short segments in which the main crew of the film talk about the story and the animation process. There is an overview of the music, and there are 3 music videos from Elton John, and there is a section which takes a look at the successful stage production of The Lion King. For the kiddies, there are several set-top games. My biggest complaint about the DVDs is the main menu on Disc 2. You can choose from 6 continents (Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, South America) and 5 topic areas (Story, Film, Music, Stage, Animals). The odd thing is that all of these selections take you to basically the same set of features, with very little differences. The whole thing is so confusing, that the DVD booklet contains not one, but two maps to navigate the features on Disc 2. There is a great deal of information here, and one would think that Disney could have found a simpler way to catalog it.

9 out of 10 Jackasses

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