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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Since The Lion King was the highest grossing animated movie in box office history until Finding Nemo came along not too long ago, I assume most of you are at least familiar with the movie, so I will not dwell on the intricacies of the story or its history.
As a quick refresher, though, the story opens with the introduction of Mufasa (James Earl Jones), a proud lion king, and his curious son Simba (Matthew Broderick). We are also introduced to Simba's Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) who is scheming to take over Mufasa's kingdom by killing the king and his son. Scar successfully removes Mufasa from power, but young Simba escapes Scar's trap and runs to the far reaches of the Serengeti. Bordering on death, Simba is saved by a meerkat named Timon (Nathan Lane) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). The unusual pair then raises the lion cub in the carefree lifestyle of Hakuna Matata until he is called back home to fill his rightful spot as king of the pride.
There is one significant difference between the movie you may have seen almost 10 years ago and one of the two versions on the DVD, and that is the addition of one musical number to the Special Edition version of The Lion King. Based on the response from the Broadway musical, the song Morning Report was animated and dropped into an early scene in the movie. The new song appears when Mufasa and Simba are walking around the kingdom and Zazu drops by to update Mufasa on the status of the Pridelands. The song is catchy and fun, and the animation does blend quite seamlessly with the original scene. Fortunately for those of you that do not like the idea of modifying a movie after its original release, the original 1994 cut is also available on the same disc.
This two-disc set is just packed with cool stuff, and I had a lot of fun digging through it all. Because there is so much to discuss, I have picked some of the more significant items and focused on them. However, everything on this disc is well worth looking at, and it is very well structured and produced.
Disc 1 primarily features the two aforementioned versions of the movie, but it also contains a fair amount of bonus material. There is a three-minute featurette that discusses the production of the Morning Report, and it does a good job of explaining where the idea came from and how they were able to squeeze the animation into an existing film. Another fun item of note is the collection of three deleted and abandoned scenes, which are rather brief but entertaining. The disc also contains three games for young children, such as The Lion King personality profile, a Grab-a-Grub game, and a sound matching game. My two young boys seemed to enjoy them, but they seemed pretty typical of DVD set-top games to me.
My favorite goodie on the first disc, though, is the audio commentary by producer Don Hahn and directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers. The commentary is filled with humorous and educational stories, and the three of them play off of each other with true camaraderie. It is this type of commentary that I find most interesting and fun to listen to.
Disc 2 contains the bulk of the behind-the-scenes bonus material, and Disney has structured it in a couple of different ways for exploration. You can explore it either through the individual featurettes or galleries, or you can embark on a series of video journeys, like mini documentaries, that focus on areas like animals, story, stage, film, and music. The journeys are a good way to quickly view many of the video featurettes, but to catch them all, you will need to explore a bit more.
Below is a quick summary of each of the journeys along with comments on any additional material that you should be sure to watch:
In this journey, you will see how real animals inspired the various Lion King characters. There is an introduction by Roy Disney from Disney's Animal Kingdom Park in Florida, and besides the short featurettes on lions, meerkats, warthogs, and hyenas, there is a cute montage showing how animals have been featured in Disney movies over the years.
This journey covers the origins and influences behind The Lion King. Particular attention is paid to the underlying archetypal themes and historical literature references. It is the shortest of the journeys, but it serves as a good starting point for the rest of the material on the disc.
The Lion King was not only a big hit on the big screen, but it was also a huge hit on the Broadway stage. The Stage Journey takes you behind-the-scenes with director/costume designer, Julie Taymore, and the choreographers, Garth Fagan and Aubrey Lynch. Also included in the journey are featurettes on the musical origins of the movie and stage productions, translating the movie to the stage, and the incredible stage costumes and masks. Finally, there is a nice still gallery with publicity material from the stage production.
This journey is one of my favorite sections of this disc, and it takes you from the pre-production concepts to the research trip to Africa to the early computer animation. It features numerous interviews with the production team and animators, and there is plenty of behind-the-scenes animation, character designs, and reference footage. Another interesting aspect of this journey is a discussion of how critical the influence of African art, colors, and textures were to the production, and be sure to catch the poignant retrospective look at the movie from several of the original production team members. Then, when you are done watching those, you can dive into the extensive character design galleries.
Just as the visuals play an important role in bringing this movie to life, the music plays an equally critical and memorable part. In this journey, you are treated to a number of enlightening and enjoyable interviews and rare video clips featuring Sir Elton John, Tim Rice, Hans Zimmer, Lebo M., Mark Mancina, and Jay Rifkin. The various sections of the journey cover topics like the inspiration behind the music, the influence of African music on the songs and score, and the challenges of scoring the movie. Collectively, the journey provides an interesting perspective on how the music helped shape the movie and the movie shaped the music.
My personal favorite little moment of all the journeys, though, is hearing Elton John describe how disappointed he was to hear the demo of Pumbaa singing Can You Feel The Love Tonight, which he had intended to be romantically sung by Simba and Nala. I am not sure why, but hearing Elton John sing like Pumbaa just cracks me up every time I see it.
Another goodie worth taking a look at is the virtual safari hosted by Timon and Pumbaa. You board either a boat or jeep and cruise through the African wilderness, and at various points, you get to pick which direction your safari travels. The whole safari is done with 3-D computer animation, and both my boys and I found it fun to work thorough a couple of times. It is a cute idea, and based on the preview in the adventure, we will be seeing more of these safaris on the next couple of Lion King related DVDs.
Finally, I also want to mention what a great job Disney did with the DVD booklet. It clearly delineates what is on each of the discs with brief descriptions of each major feature, and the bonus material is clearly diagramed for easy navigation. Also, to help you make sure you can find everything on Disc 2, there is a bonus material matrix that shows you exactly where you can find each goodie. I know it seems relatively minor, but I think something like this is very important to DVD newbies who need a decent road map to sort through all this great stuff.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
This one is easy. The anamorphic widescreen video transfer looks absolutely stunning. The colors are vibrant and solid throughout the movie, and the detail is amazing. I just wish I had a bigger TV to watch it on.
Not to be outdone, the audio is equally amazing. The standard Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer sounds very clean and will sound good on any system, but the Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix is wild. Most audio transfers are designed to make you feel as though most of the audio plays in front of you and to the sides. The enhanced mix is designed to put you in the center of the sound field, and all five surround speakers are almost equally active. I had heard that the audio for the wildebeest stampede scene was pretty cool, but it is something that you need to experience in person to really appreciate. This enhancement really works well with this movie, and it will be interesting to see what other movies get this special home theater mix treatment.
The user interfaces on both discs are impeccable. They are perfectly themed, well designed, and filled with music and animation. Creative and sensory filling menus have become one of Disney's strong points within the last couple of years, and the interfaces on this set are the icing on the cake.
The Final Evaluation
Quite simply, this is one of the best DVD releases of the year. The video transfer is stunningly vibrant and detailed, and the audio, especially the new Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix, is wonderfully enveloping. The new song fits into the movie quite well, and for theatrical purists, the original movie cut looks and sounds equally fabulous. Top off the killer movie presentation with an impressive array of bonus material on both discs, and you can see what DVD is all about. The Lion King Platinum Edition DVD is a perfect addition to your home video collection, and Disney is now a perfect three-for-three for their Platinum releases.
Next up, Aladdin in 2004. Will Disney be able to turn that diamond in the rough into platinum? It certainly looks like they have the formula correct.
Two versions Of The Film:
Tree of Life
Deleted & Abandoned Scenes
Animal Journey (20 min)
Story Journey (11 min)
Stage Journey (15 min)
Film Journey (26 min)
Music Journey (37 min)
Storyboard to film comparison
Early presentation reels
Character design galleries
Art design galleries
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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