The Lion King [Blu-Ray]
Director : s Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Screenplay : Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 1994
The opening 10 minutes of The Lion King are quite possibly the finest achievement in the entirety of the hand-drawn Disney canon. Set to Hans Zimmer’s robust orchestrations of Elton John’s now iconic “The Circle of Life,” which is deeply enriched by a chorus of traditional African chants led by the inimitable cadences of singer Lebo M., the sequence is pure anthropomorphic fantasy, with the entire Serengeti gathering and bowing at the foot of Pride Rock where Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the lion king, presents his heir, a newborn cub named Simba. These opening moments encompass the richness of animation at its finest, but also stand as great filmmaking in the silent film tradition, presenting story and character and setting with a wealth of traditional cinematic devices (camera movement, rack focus, long takes) and without a word of dialogue. It is no wonder that the Disney marketing department declined to put together a pre-release trailer and instead just showed the opening sequence.
As it turns out, the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to those first moments, despite a robust effort from the entire production team (most of whom were Disney’s second tier, with the A-Team ironically working on Pocahontas) and a game cast of voice talents who breathe life into their often one-dimensional characters. The story, which draws heavily on Biblical and Shakespearean allusions (but also manages to work in fart jokes and lines of dialogue from Taxi Driver and In the Heat of the Night), focuses on the regal rivalry between Mufasa and his sniveling younger brother Scar (Jeremy Irons), who bemoans his secondary status despite his superior intellect. Mufasa is grooming young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) to be heir to the throne when Scar conspires with a trio of hyenas (two of whom are voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin) to knock off the king, banish Simba, and assume power with devastating consequences.
Once banished, Simba is taken in by an unlikely duo: a chatty meerkat named Timon (Nathan Lane) and a flatulent warthog named Pumbaa (Ernia Sabella) who teach him the philosophy of “hakuna matata” (which means “no worries”) in what is easily the film’s funniest and liveliest setpiece (Simba’s earlier song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is too cutesy for its own good and the film fails to deliver on the implied narcissism of the boy prince). Simba grows into adulthood (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) and, as all disgraced heroes must do, eventually returns to reclaim his kingdom from Scar’s clutches. That he does this at the behest of Nala (Moira Kelly), his childhood best friend and adult love interest, is the closest the film comes to any kind of female presence, which is interesting given that Disney’s previous animated films, including The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty & the Beast (1992), and Aladdin (1992), had all featured headstrong female characters (although they all clearly fell short of being genuinely progressive in their gender dynamics). The Lion King, on the other hand, is a male-centric story through and through, celebrating in no uncertain terms a boy’s growth into manhood and his natural claiming of his father’s power.
During the production, there was much doubt within the Mouse House that The Lion King would be successful. It was their first animal-centric movie since the underwhelming The Rescuers Down Under (1990) and it was the first Disney movie ever to be based on an original story, thus it didn’t fit with the studio’s most recent hits; even Jeffrey Katzenberg, who first suggested the idea back in the late 1980s, said he would have been elated if it had made $50 million. Nevertheless, it turned out to be not only one of the biggest animated hits of all time, but a genuine blockbuster that marked the high point of the Disney animation renaissance that had begun with The Little Mermaid five years earlier. The Lion King isn’t nearly as good as its phenomenal success might suggest, although it is significantly better than both the anemic films Disney was producing in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the Disney films that followed, which proved that the formula of underdog hero(ine), catchy musical numbers, and funny sidekicks has an expiration date (at least a temporary one). And, most importantly, for a generation of American kids, The Lion King is a defining film they will always love, and its recent ascent to the top of the box office charts in a 3-D re-release suggests that it still holds the power to move that generation’s children just as it moved them.
|The Lion King 2-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack|
|The Lion King is also available in a three-disc Combo Pack that includes a 3D Blu-Ray.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 4, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Presented in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer taken from what looks to be an absolutely pristine print, The Lion King looks truly regal. One of the things I have really appreciated about watching animated films in high-definition is how it restores the minute details that remind us of their hand-drawn origins. Although The Lion King incorporates CGI in several sequences, most notably the wildebeest stampede, the majority of it was hand-drawn and inked, which the transfer presents with great accuracy and depth (although I reviewed the 2-D Blu-Ray, the film is extraordinarily multidimensional). Colors are rich and beautifully rendered, and the high level of detail invites us to lose ourselves in the imagery. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is also excellent, with great separation to draw us into the action and enrich the memorable songs. The low end is also quite impressive, giving the wildebeest stampede and the battle at the end a thundering sense of presence.|
|The Lion King Diamond Edition Blu-Ray includes all of the supplements included on the previous Platinum Edition DVD release, although many of them can be accessed only via BD-Live. Thus, I will focus my comments on the new material. First up is Pride of the Lion King, an excellent 48-minute retrospective documentary that features interviews with many of the talents involved in making the film, including co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, composer Hans Zimmer, lyricist Tim Rice, Disney executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, and actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. A good portion of the documentary covers the production and reception of the film’s Broadways adaptation and includes an interview with director Julie Taymor. Also new is “The Lion King: A Memoir--Don Hahn” featurette, in which producer Don Hahn reminisces about the film’s long (and sometimes tortured) journey to the screen. This is a fun featurette because it includes a lot of interview footage and images from the time of the film’s production. Also on the disc are 14 minutes of deleted and extended scenes introduced by the directors, including a deleted song by Mufasa. All of these scenes were cut at the preliminary stages, so they exist only as pencil sketches and a soundtrack. There is also a lame blooper reel whose animation looks distinctly different from the animation in the film, the Disney Singalong Mode, and an interactive gallery. The disc also supports Disney Second Screen-enabled devices.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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