THE LION KING – Blu-ray Review by John Strange
When The Lion King arrived on our theater screens in late June of 1994, it quickly became a huge hit, a modern classic. Audiences saw Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), newborn son of the King, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and Sarabi (Madge Sinclair) being presented as the heir to the throne to the other animals of the pride lands. Simba's life in the pride is an easy one. He and his best friend, Nala (Niketa Calame) play as much as they can.
But all is not good in the pride. Mufasa's brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), covets the throne. He is evil incarnate, evidenced by the fact that his cronies are hyenas (primarily Shenzi – Whoopi Goldberg, banzai – Cheech Marin, and Ed – Jim Cummings). Scar puts Simba in mortal danger and then watches as Mufasa braves a wildebeest stampede to save his son. But Scar is not done, he prevents his brother from reaching safety and laughs as he watches him plummet to his death under the hooves of the stampeding beasts.
Convinced by Scar that Mufasa's death is his fault, Simba runs away from the pride lands in shame. The young lion is lucky enough to be rescued from certain death in the desert by as unlikely a pair as have ever been linked in a movie. Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella), a meercat and a warthog respectively, are two of the most laidback creatures to ever grace a movie screen without being drug users! They teach young Simba their credo, Hakuna Mata, which means "no worries" in Swahili.
As with any great story, our hero (Simba, in this case) must eventually return home and vanquish the evil-doer. All of this is done along with amazing songs and even better animation. The climax of this film is both satisfying and heartwarming.
The songs and soundtrack that are such a strong part of making this film so amazing come from the awesome Hans Zimmer (musical director) and two of the best song writers of any generation, Elton John and Tim Rice. Their music is still on the lips of people world-wide. Few people in the world have not heard "Circle of Life" at least once in their life.
But the story of how this film came to be is a big part of why I love reviewing blu-rays, DVD's, and digital HD releases! When you buy the film in one of these formats you don't just get the film, you get lots extras and bonuses. These extras usually include an audio commentary that will give you some amazing insights into the film as it plays, deleted scenes so you can see alternate scenes that didn't make the movie with the directors explaining why they chose not to use them, music and behind-the-scenes photographs.
My favorite part of the extras on this film (as with many of the Disney films) are videos of the early decision meetings where the course of the film is being mapped out. You find out things about the film that aren't in Wikipedia or from any other source. In the case of this film, I discovered that the movie we see is not the movie the directors, producers, and writers originally planned to make. The final film, which I love, came about as the filmmakers storyboarded the scenes and discussed how they will play.
In these meetings, called "Inside the Story Room" in the extras, we learn about how they decided on everything from wording to color palates. In many cases the directors are actually speaking the dialogue and singing the songs that have been written for the scenes as they present the storyboards.
For this disk, my least favorite extra was surprising to me. I generally love watching the deleted scenes. In this case, the scenes were deleted before they were more than partially completed so most of what we see are line drawings as a background for the dialogue. I found them a bit disappointing.
But deleting scenes at that stage makes a lot of sense for a film like this. From start to finish a normal live-action film MIGHT have up to 3-4 months of shooting for a very complicated script. For animation, that process can take YEARS, The Lion King was conceived in 1988 and not completed until 1994!
In case you have never read about this process, once the story is fleshed out and written, the casting begins. The voice talent (actors and actresses) will do their dialogue in studios that may be and usually are anywhere in the world. These sessions are videoed so that the animators can see the actors faces and movements (we got to see several of these for this film). This helps them do their jobs. During this time the music side of the house is also busy at work writing songs and recording them, sometimes using the actors and actresses and sometimes the musicians (like Elton John for "Circle of Life").
As the work progresses, the directors are constantly looking at the overall story to see what needs to be tweaked or changed. Some of the action on the screen may be done with the aid of computers but the characters are generally drawn movement by movement, scene by scene.
Because of all of this and so many additional steps I have left out, it takes a LONG time to make one of these films. But when a studio gets it as right as they did with this one, magic happens. According to Wikipedia, The Lion King made about a BILLION dollars world-wide in 1994 (tickets and merchandise)!
This is one for your collections if it's not already there!
Rowan Atkinson, Matthew Broderick, Niketa Calame, Jim Cummings, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Guillaume, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Zoe Leader, Cheech Marin, Ernie Sabella, Madge Sinclair, Jonathan Taylor Thomas
· Brand New Sing-Along Version
· Audio Commentary – View the film with commentary by producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.
· Visualizing a Villain – Against a backdrop of live dancers and the animated “Be Prepared” sequence, artist David Garibaldi paints a masterpiece of evil.
· The Recording Sessions – Watch rare footage of the actors recording their roles, matched with the final animation. Intro by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.
· Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation – Nathan Lane (Timon) and Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba) offer candid and hilarious insights into their Lion King experiences.
· Inside the Story Room – Co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff present archival footage of five original story pitches.
o Circle of Life – See how color creates emotion and meaning in the film's iconic opening.
o Simba & Nala – See how elements proposed in story meetings evolve into what appears onscreen.
o Simba Takes Nala Out to Play – …And, sometimes what seems funny in story meetings never makes it into the film!
o Hakuna Matata – Co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff sing, act and dance their hearts out as they pitch the "Hakuna Matata" sequence.
o Rafiki and Reflecting Pool – Co-directors Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff pitch a sequence that became the emotional heart of The Lion King to Producer Don Hahn.
· Music & More – Sing along to your favorite songs from the movie!
o “Circle of Life”
o “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”
o “Be Prepared”
o “Hakuna Matata”
o “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”
o Visual Development – Explore a gallery of striking artwork that inspired the movie's look and feel.
o Character Design – Trace the development of the film's unforgettable characters through early concept art drawings.
o Storyboards – Examine storyboards created in the development of “The Lion King.”
o Layouts – Feast your eyes on layouts created in the development of “The Lion King.”
o Backgrounds & Layouts – Journey through a gallery of landscape paintings that shaped the world of “The Lion King.”
· Classic Bonus Features (Digital Only) – These offerings from prior home entertainment releases include hours of bonus material, such as bloopers, audio commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, and in-depth journeys into the music, film, story, animals and stage show.
*Bonus features may vary by retailer
Product SKUs: Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy), Digital HD/SD, DVD
Feature Run Time: Approximately 89 minutes
Rating: G in U.S. and Canada
Aspect Ratio: Blu-ray Feature Film = 1080p High Definition / 1.78:1
DVD Feature Film = 1.78:1
Audio: Blu-ray = English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks
DVD = English, Spanish, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks
Subtitles: English ESL, English SDH, French & Spanish
Selig Rating Scale:
BRAND NEW: Should add to your DVD collection at any cost
SALE ITEM: Worth owning, but try to catch it a sale
SECOND HAND: Plan to get it, but wait to buy it used
RENTAL: Worth taking a look at, but not owning
COASTER: Pick it up at a garage sale and use it for drinks
PULL!: Makes a great Trap Shooting target