THE LION KING
Review by Michael Jacobson
James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, Madge
Sinclair, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim
Cummings, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (original and Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2003
not here…the king has returned!”
Lion King has
roared onto DVD in one of the most spectacular home video presentations I’ve
ever experienced. More on that
been almost ten years since this movie first hit theatres and captured the
imagination of the entire world. It
represented a couple of bold new steps for the Walt Disney Studios animation
department. One, it was an original
story and not based on some popular book or fairy tale.
Two, it was completely devoid of human characters.
because of those two aspects, Disney actually regarded The Lion King as a
B-list project…in fact, if you can believe it, the film they considered their
A project at the time was Pocahontas!
made it a daunting task for the filmmakers assigned to the project…even more
so was the fact that this film was coming on the heels of Disney’s great
animation renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and come
to fruition with Beauty and the Beast in 1991. That’s even more ironic in hindsight, because The Lion
King not only duly followed those films in Disney’s resurgence, but also
seemed to cap it as well. Apart
from the great Pixar computer animated features, Disney has yet to return to the
glory apexed with The Lion King.
not what I’d call a perfect film, but it’s a film where what’s great about
it more than makes up for what might be iffy.
It’s a great story with a wonderful lesson about the “circle of
life”, the characters are striking and memorable, the animation, backgrounds
and computer generated effects all make for a startling visual experience, and
the cast of voices, for the most part, were perfect.
opening sequence is something I’ve seen countless times (it actually ran in
its entirety on screens months before the film came out as a promotional clip),
but it always captivates me. The
simple concept of showing the presentation of the young lion cub Simba (voiced
in youth by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) was taken to beautiful, glorious extremes
with the pulsating music of “Circle of Life” and incredible animation
effects that simulate among other shots a rotating camera and a rack focus
between ants on a tree branch and galloping zebras in the background. No animated film has ever been set up so perfectly.
is heir to the throne of his father Mufasa (Jones), but the subject of bitter
jealousy by his uncle Scar (Irons). Scar
can never be king now that Mufasa has a son.
Or can he? If king and
prince were out of the way, it would clear the path to the throne.
And the villainous hyenas (the main three voiced by Goldberg, Marin and
Cummings) would certainly benefit from Scar’s wicked designs.
film’s most cited sequence is a CGI enhanced wildebeest stampede, which runs
the gamut very quickly from eye-popping spectacle to unimaginable heartbreak.
In a scene that never fails to bring me to tears, young Simba loses his
father, and soon, his whole world as well, as he blames himself and runs away.
and alone, he soon makes two unusual friends in Timon (Lane) and Pumbaa (Sabella),
a meerkat and warthog, who instill in little Simba their “no worries”
philosophy (the song “Hakuna Matata”). Simba grows from cub to strapping young lion (voiced by
Broderick) as he grows accustomed to life with his new friends.
But something inside him remains unresolved.
appearance of an old childhood friend Nala (Kelly) alerts him to the horrible
plight of the lions and the pride land under the tyrannical rule of Scar.
And the priest-like Rafiki (Guillaume) helps Simba realize that his
departed father lives on inside of him, and points him toward the destiny he
could never escape from.
all leads to a tremendous climax in which Simba challenges Scar for the kingdom.
It’s expertly done, and always impressive to me how it manages to walk
the line between sheer spectacle and drama to outrageously funny bits of
slapstick that always emerge at the right time to keep the spirit of the scene
alive. My favorite line in the
piece comes from Pumbaa: “They
call me MR. Pig!!!”
is a story with tremendous heart and passion, and as mentioned, its strong suits
greatly outweigh its few weaknesses. One
minor drawback is the inconsistency of the voice casting.
Some are superb, from the regal, rich voices of James Earl Jones, Jeremy
Irons and Madge Sinclair, to the comically energetic turns from Whoopi Goldberg
and Cheech Marin. Robert Guillaume
brings warmth and balances humor with dignity as Rafiki, and Nathan Lane and
Ernie Sabella have made their characters into indelible Disney franchises.
not every actor can do voiceover work successfully; it’s an entirely different
animal (so to speak). I like
Matthew Broderick, but he brings very little life to the adult version of Simba.
Same with Moira Kelly as Nala. And
while young Jonathan Taylor Thomas brought vim and spunk to young Simba, it begs
the eternal question of why every ‘kid’ in Disney animation sounds like a
young American brat, even when the story takes place in Africa?
song score is decidedly mixed, too. The
tunes by Elton John and Tim Rice range from the epic and memorable (“Circle of
Life”) to the mundane and uninspiring (“Be Prepared”).
The new song “Morning Report”, added for the IMAX version of the film
and included here in the special edition presentation, adds nor detracts
anything. “Hakuna Matata” is
silly and vaudevillian. “Can You
Feel the Love Tonight” is sweeping and majestic during the end credits when
Elton John sings it, but rather silly when performed in the movie by the
characters. It won an Oscar, so I
guess that isn’t too much of a complaint.
I stress…these are minor quibbles. They
aren’t capable of disrupting the momentum of this juggernaut of a story, no do
they take away any of its spirit, warmth, humor and drama.
The opening and final notes are absolutely perfect, and most of what goes
on in between is, too. It’s no wonder this film became an instant classic compared
favorably with even the great offerings of Disney’s illustrious past.
The phenomenon spread to a long time box office record for an animated
film, a still standing one for home video sales, other movies, television, and a
huge Broadway hit musical.
it all began with one infant cub who grew up to take his place in the circle of
life. This is a timeless story
superbly executed…you can’t wish for more.
stunning. Disney’s digital
remastering of this modern classic is a work of absolute beauty resulting in
probably the finest looking presentation of traditional animation I’ve yet
seen on DVD. The colors of Africa
are brighter, richer and more vibrant than ever.
Every tone is lively and distinct, and colors play against each other
without bleeding or fuzziness. The
more natural looking shades serve nicely against the expressionistic ones in the
fantastic sequences like “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”.
No grain or compression artifacts mar the experience, and the level of
detail the animators brought to the overall vision is amazingly realize here.
This is as good as it gets.
is on to something with their new Enhanced Home Theater mix.
Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t default with that track on; it starts
with the standard 5.1 mix. I watched the entire disc that way, and was pleased.
Then I noticed the enhanced mix was a different one that you could select
from the menu. I watched it again,
and from only a few seconds into it, I was completely blown away.
This is one of the most striking uses of digital audio I’ve ever heard.
sound is clean, clear, and strikingly distinct. The bass channel is stronger and more constant:
listen to the sound of the waterfall in the opening, or especially the
wildebeest stampede. The latter is so real and powerful, I actually noticed myself
grabbing tight to my armrest in unconscious reaction to the intensity.
The songs sound better than ever, with Hans Zimmer’s remarkable score
getting a full, open sounding orchestration with every subtle instrument coming
through sharply. The dynamic range is so powerful you might want to start with
the volume low. Dialogue is clean
and clear, and the surrounds are active and energetic throughout.
a remarkable experience…you have to hear this for yourself!
Platinum Edition releases mean features galore, and this disc is no exception.
Disc One starts with a commentary track by producer Don Hahn and
directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. It’s
a great listen, filled with behind-the-scenes knowledge, discussions of the
actors and development, reactions and more.
The commentary only runs with the theatrical version of the film, not the
animated menu screens take you through the rest of the features, as Zazu guides
you through them. There are three
interactive games. “Timon’s
Grab-a-Grub” lets you help him catch bugs (one or two can play), while
“Pumbaa’s Sound Sensation” lets you match sounds to animals.
A “Personality Profile” game asks you questions, and based on your
answers, you’ll find out which Lion King character you most represent
(for me, it was Rafiki).
are three deleted scenes and a making-of the new “Morning Report” number.
A sing-along track lets you sing along at home with your favorite songs.
The first disc rounds out with with a pair of music videos:
Elton John sings “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, and the Disney
Channel stars do one for “Circle of Life”.
It’s so atrociously bad I had tears coming out of my eyes and diet soda
shooting from my nose! A “making-of” for the video doesn’t help.
Two has everything else. You can
start by picking a continent to navigate the features, or you can use the bottom
icons to find your items more easy. The
segments Film Journey, Music Journey, Animal Journey and Story Journey each
contain multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes that bring you up close with the
development, presentation, and ultimate world wide phenomenon of the movie.
We get close to everyone involved except the voice talents, which is a
shame. But you still get to look at the computer and traditional
animations, the background, the music, the animals, Julie Taymor and the
Broadway show, and much more, including storyboards, more music videos, and a
trailer for the upcoming The Lion King 1 ½.
fun feature is “Timon & Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari”…a 3-D interactive
adventure that takes you with your favorite sidekicks on your choice of a jeep
or boat trek through Africa where you get to pick the paths.
There’s danger and fun galore, and every time you play can be
different…they end with “photos” from your tour that are good for an extra
a lot to go through, but to make it easier, Disney’s booklet provides you with
an easy layout so you can quickly find your favorite feature.
It reminds me a little of a Disney World map!