The Lion King appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’d feel shocked if Disney botched a super “A” list title like this, and I assumed correctly, as the DVD presented a simply excellent picture.
Sharpness seemed stellar. At all times, the movie remained crisp and well defined. I noticed no examples of softness or fuzziness during this detailed and concise picture. Jagged edges and moiré effects appeared absent, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, I noticed none, as the movie looked clean and fresh from start to finish.
The jungle setting of King meant that it boasted a wonderfully vivid and varied palette, and the DVD presented those hues well. The colors consistently looked terrific. From the lush landscapes to the animals to all other elements, the hues always came across as lively and tight. Black levels mostly looked solid, though I thought nighttime skies seemed slightly inky. Low-light images were concisely displayed and tight, with no excessive opacity. The quality of The Lion King fell short of “A+” levels, but it remained a stellar image nonetheless.
The Lion King also provided a pretty strong Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. In an interesting move, we can watch the movie with either the original theatrical track or an all-new “enhanced home theater mix”. I opted for the latter and found it to present a fine auditory experience.
King featured a very active soundfield. All five channels presented a lot of different elements that made them work constantly throughout the movie. Music emphasized the front speakers, but the score and songs also used the rears for solid reinforcement and occasional unique elements. Stereo imaging was very fine. Effects played an active role in the proceedings and helped bring the action to life. Quieter sequences demonstrated a nice feeling of atmosphere, while louder ones kicked the track into higher gear. The audio really helped bring even greater power to sequences like the wildebeest stampede, as unique material came from all the speakers to create an engrossing sense of environment.
For the most part, audio quality seemed excellent. A few lines spoken by the hyenas demonstrated a smidgen of edginess, but otherwise speech came across as natural and crisp. Music varied somewhat but usually was solid. A few of the production numbers lacked the dimensionality I expected, but those examples remained fairly minor, and the music was usually rich and full. Effects always sounded accurate and dynamic. Those elements presented good bass response and seemed tight and well defined with no signs of distortion.
The “enhanced” soundtrack presented one of the coolest examples of speaker manipulation I’ve yet encountered. At the 18:50 mark when Nala and Simba entered the elephant graveyard, a small geyser erupted. A blast of air from the speaker accompanied this! The track replicated this effect again at 21:35 and much later at 1:14:00. This freaked me out when it first occurred, as I thought it was some sort of coincidence. However, I repeated it, so obviously it came with the soundtrack. It creeped me out at first, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or just an inevitable side effect of the mix, but it’s still a very cool effect.
Given the prominence of The Lion King, we anticipate a deluxe DVD edition, and this two-disc set lives up to expectations. As we start with the first platter, we find an audio commentary from directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff with producer Don Hahn. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific track. Taken straight from the 1995 laserdisc release, the commentary appears alongside the theatrical version of the film; one cannot watch the special edition cut and listen to the commentary. This means we get no mention of the IMAX version of the movie since the material was recorded back in 1995.
Don’t regard that as a problem, however, as the track seems very solid. The trio cover pretty much all the appropriate topics. They hit on various animation challenges, casting and aspects related to the voice actors, script changes and character development, research, and many other elements. The three men display nice chemistry and interact with vivacity and good humor. A little too much happy talk shows up at times, and the track drags a little during the film’s third act, but overall, this seems like a useful and entertaining discussion of the movie.
DVD One’s other extras get split into a few different domains. In the “Grasslands” area we find two extras. The Making of “Morning Report” provides a three-minute and eight-second look at the tune added to the movie. We get some movie snippets, a few behind the scenes elements, and comments from Hahn, Allers, lyricist Tim Rice, composer Elton John, composer/song producer Mark Mancina, Walt Disney Music president Chris Montan, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Bob Chapek. Unfortunately, they don’t tell us much. We get a smidgen of information about the addition of the song itself, but mostly the participants tell us how special everything is and how happy there are with the result.
The other element of “Grasslands” is The Lion King Personality Profile Game. In this little piece, Zazu asks a few questions about you so he can decide which character you most resemble. This game is a lot like one found on Sleeping Beauty that tells you which Disney heroine you most resemble. I prefer this one since it doesn’t make me feel, well, so... girlie. (For the record, I ended up matched with Timon.)
In the “Tree of Life” domain we get three different elements. First up is a music video for “Circle of Life” performed by the Disney Channel “Circle of Stars”. This group includes Hilary Duff, Raven, Christy Romano, Orlando Smith, Anneliese van der Pol, Tahj Mowry, Kyla Pratt and AJ Trauth. I don’t recognize too many of those names, though I suppose kids will feel more familiar with them. Too bad most of them over-sing the song badly, and the light teen pop arrangement of the tune robs it of any power. The video itself is a bland combination of movie clips and lip-synching. Both song and video are duds.
Unfortunately, we now endure more material connected to the track, as we get a Making of the Music Video. The four-minute and three-second clip shows shots from the studio and some soundbites. It doesn’t attribute the speakers, but we hear from most of the singers as well as the producer, who looks and sounds an awful lot like Steve Buscemi. It’s a fairly pointless and gushy piece that reveals little and mostly annoys. By the way, whoever the tubby black guy is, he’s really obnoxious and not one-tenth as funny and charming as he clearly believes he is.
The final component of the “Tree of Life” provides a Sing Along Track. A feature found on many Disney DVDs, this uses the subtitle stream to present song lyrics during the movie. It remains somewhat useless since the normal subtitle track already does the same thing, but I guess it makes it easier to play karaoke.
Now we head to the “Jungle” with its two components. Timon’s Grab-A-Grub gives us one in the apparently unending series of Disney DVD games. This requires you to use the arrow keys on your remote to snag bugs. It’s very easy, very tedious, and since it lacks any reward, very pointless.
Yet another game, Pumbaa’s Sound Sensations plays audio clips and requires you to match the vocalization to the appropriate animal. It’s more fun than the boring “Grab-A-Grub”, but it also seems awfully simple and it comes without any prize for successful completion.
After this we head to the “Elephant Graveyard”, where we actually find some useful material. It includes three Deleted Scenes and Abandoned Concepts. We get “Bug Football” (52 seconds), “Hakuna Matata” (two minutes, 27 seconds), and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (105 seconds). The first two launch with 29-second introductions from Don Hahn before we watch the sequences. “Football” uses a storyreel with scratch dialogue performed by the directors for this brief bit of fun among Simba, Timon and Pumbaa. “Matata” presents a deleted verse of the song that focuses on Timon’s earlier life. It combines some rough animation with storyreel elements and is easily the most interesting of these bits.
Lastly, “Love” comes with comments from Tim Rice and Elton John who discuss their intentions for the song. Elton adds his reaction to the animators’ original plan to have Timon and Pumbaa sing the whole number, and we hear a demo version of that rendition from Sabella and Lane. It’s an intriguing alternate take.
As the DVD starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for The Lion King 1.5, Brother Bear, George of the Jungle 2, Santa Clause 2, Walt Disney World, and Finding Nemo. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with ads for the special edition DVDs of Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins.
Lastly, DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
This completes the first disc and sends us to DVD Two, which comes chock full of extras. Unfortunately, it uses a somewhat confusing interface. When you hit the main menu, you’ll find a list of continents in one area and titles such as “Story”, “Film” and “Stage” at the bottom of the screen. According to the DVD’s booklet, “you can embark on five special journeys based on filmmaking, music, theater, story or animals – with never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with The Lion King writers and directors – OR you can take a self-guided tour within each continent.”
What does this all mean? I’m not sure. It makes access to the materials somewhat confusing and may force the viewer to watch redundant pieces. Some bits appear only in one of the “journeys” or one of the continents, while many show up in both places.
At least the booklet includes an index for all the features. Rather than try to work through each of the possible paths, I’ll just go through the materials in the order presented in this index. I’ll note where each feature appears on the DVD as well.
We start with one Abandoned Scene (North America, Glendale) that doesn’t show up on DVD One. Entitled “Warthog Rhapsody”, the four-minute and 20-second clip begins with a 52-second introduction from Don Hahn. He gives us some notes about the track, and we then get a demo version of this precursor to “Hakuna Matata” presented in storyreel fashion. It’s fun to hear the song as a work in progress, and this is an intriguing alternate rendition.
Two features related to a Disney theme park appear next. Animal Kingdom Lodge and Animal Kingdom Park (North America, Orlando) run 99 seconds and four minutes, three seconds, respectively. These offer nothing more than promotional pieces to tout the attractions, though in “Park”, Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Designer and Vice President - Creative Joe Rohde gives us a few brief notes about the place’s design.
For an examination of the studio’s history with various critters, Disney & Animals (North America – Orlando, North America – Burbank, and “Animal”) goes five minutes, 46 seconds. We start with an introduction from studio vice chairman Roy E. Disney before an anonymous narrator discusses Disney’s use of animals in cartoons, live-action nature films, and other flicks like Old Yeller. Though the featurette offers some fun glimpses at the creation of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, overall this provides a fluffy and insubstantial examination of its topic that mostly just touts Disney product.
An Introduction (“Animal”) lasts 90 seconds. Roy E. Disney discusses the Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life as this piece leads into the subject of animals featured in The Lion King. It’s pretty useless.
From there we go to examinations of four different kinds of critters: Hyenas (two minutes, 24 seconds), Lions (two minutes, 56 seconds), Meerkats (two minutes, 44 seconds) and Warthogs (two minutes, 56 seconds). (All four pieces appear in both the Africa and “Animal” domains.) We hear from the anonymous narrator of “Disney & Animals” again as he gives us basic details about each form of animal. We get clips from Lion King and shots of real-life creatures in these somewhat superficial but moderately informative shorts.
An extensive set of galleries appears next. Art Design (North America – Glendale and Africa) gives us 44 stills of general African vistas and animals and opens with a spoken introduction to the topic. Far too many other galleries show up for me to comment individually about their contents. “North America – Glendale” presents all but one of the galleries, so rather than list all of the locations they appear, just know you can find almost all of them there. The rogue gallery is called “Film Character Design”, and it appears in “Africa” as well as “Film”. It provides sketches for 10 main roles plus “miscellaneous characters”, each of which starts with a quick spoken introduction similar to that of “Art Design”. A collection of interesting drawings that demonstrate character development, each section offers between 15 and 36 pieces of art for a total of 213 stills.
Now we head back to “North America – Glendale” for all the other still galleries. These include “Elephant Graveyard” (14 images), “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (8), “Circle of Life” (8), “Rafiki Discovers Simba Is Alive” (7), “Hakuna Matata” (6), “Nala Appears” (21), “Pride Rock” (14), “Pridelands” (27), “Jungle Flora” (18), “Rafiki’s Tree” (9), “Effects Animation: The Fight” (9), “Effects Animation: The Stampede” (7), “Effects Animation: Circle of Life” (6), “Stage Musical Publicity” (11), “International Soundtrack Covers” (16), and “International Large Format Release” (11. Once again, spoken introductions lead us into most of the galleries, though many are fairly redundant. There’s a lot of art to be found here, and the elements seem interesting and illuminating.
With all that art out of the way, we can now move to DVD Sound Design (North America – Burbank). This examines modifications made for the film’s IMAX release as well as the “enhanced home theater” mix. We hear from producer Hahn, director Allers, Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Chapek, and re-recording mixer Terry Porter. The latter dominates this five-minute featurette. As with many of this DVD’s short clips, “Design” concentrates less on actual information and more on telling us how cool everything is.
Two Early Concepts pop up next along with an Early Presentation Reel (North America – Glendale). For the first two, we get storyreels of “Timon and Pumbaa Find Simba” (three minutes, including a 38-second Hahn intro) and “Simba’s Presentation” (four minutes, three seconds with 39-second Hahn introduction). These aren’t deleted sequences; instead, they offer early takes on bits that ended up in the final flick. It’s cool to see how they compare with the finished material.
As for the “Early Presentation Reel”, this 91-second clip starts with a 25-second intro from Hahn. He explains the purpose of this promo piece that mixes rough music with concept art for King of the Jungle, as the flick was originally titled. It’s a nice piece of historical material.
For a discussion of visual elements, we go to Art – African Influence (Africa, “Film”). It lasts four minutes, two seconds and shows concept art, movie snippets, and comments from Hahn, directors Rob Minkoff and Allers, character design/visual development artists Hans Bacher and Lisa Keene, production designer Chris Sanders, and art director Andy Gaskill. The featurette gives us a fairly nice examination of how the animators’ visit to Africa contributed to the movie’s look.
Though mostly a cel product, Lion King does include some Computer Animation (North America – Glendale, “Film”). This four-minute and 24-second featurette displays the CG elements of the movie. We get demonstrations of the techniques from computer graphics imagery Scott F. Johnston. It offers an efficient documentation of the complexities behind the wildebeest stampede.
To see where The Lion King came from, we go to Film Origins (“Film”). The five-minute and 53-second program includes remarks from Hahn, Allers, Minkoff, artistic coordinator Randy Fullmer, artistic supervisor Brenda Chapman, artist Lisa Keene, past president of Walt Disney Feature Animation Peter Schneider, film historian Leonard Maltin, artist Hans Bacher, production designer Sander, executive producer Thomas Schumacher, co-writers Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts. They go into Disney’s rebirth in the era and tell us how Lion King was viewed as a less than promising project. They also get into the development of the story and the script. As with many of these programs, it seems kind of puffy and self-congratulatory, but it explores a few interesting notions, especially when we hear about the apparent feeling that Pocahontas was the studio’s big dog at the time.
In the Production Design featurette (North America – Glendale, “Film”), we get a little information about that topic. The piece lasts a mere 114 seconds as art director Andy Gaskill talks about the potential cinematographic possibilities for the movie. We learn of its Lawrence of Arabia roots and other graphic influences. Despite the piece’s brevity, it packs some good information.
Hinted at elsewhere, the next program documents the crew’s Production Research Trip (Africa, “Film”). The two-minute and 21-second featurette shows photos and film of this trek along with modern comments from Allers, Brenda Chapman, Chris Sanders, and Lisa Keene. As usual, their remarks seem fluffy and inconsequential, but the smattering of images from the trip makes this a reasonably useful piece.
For a discussion of the film’s impact we move to Reflections (North America – Burbank, “Film”). The featurette runs five minutes, 11 seconds as we hear from Leonard Maltin, Chris Sanders, Peter Schneider, Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, Randy Fullmer, Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Tim Rice, Lisa Keene, Brenda Chapman, Hahn, Elton John, and Jonathan Roberts Yup, it’s another self-congratulatory fluff fest in which all involved tell us how incredible the flick’s success was and how timeless it is. Sure, the movie did do wonderfully, but do we need those involved to tell us this?
The Storyboard Process (North America – Glendale, “Film”) gives us a quick look at that topic. In this 115-second clip, Minkoff and Allers talk about how the filmmakers use storyboards and help develop the movie through them. Tight and focused, this piece concentrates well on its subject.
To learn how they adapt movies for International Release (Africa, Asia, North America – Burbank, Europe, and South America), we go to this three minute and 34 second program. In addition to translated clips in various languages, we find comments from Executive Vice President for Disney Character Voices International Jeff Miller, Vice President for Disney Character Voices International Blake Todd, and Sr. Vice President and Creative Disney Character Voices Rick Dempsey. They discuss the challenges of making the dialogue fit with various cultures as well as some casting and general topics. Though a little puffy, some good information appears here. Most intriguing is a quick glimpse at a note sheet that goes out to the different territories with recommendations and requirements for the voices.
More non-English fun appears via the Multi-Language Reel (Africa, Asia, South America, Europe). After an introduction from Rick Dempsey, the piece presents “Hakuna Matata” with various parts in different languages. It uses 15 dialects for the four minute and 10 second tune. In addition, you can check out other short scenes in each language via a branching feature.
Up next come three music videos. We find clips for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, “Circle of Life” (both in Europe and “Music”) and “Hakuna Matata” (Africa and “Music”). Sir Elton himself plays the first two, but the videos offer nothing more than the usual dull combination of lip-synching and movie snippets. For “Hakuna Matata”, we get a version by Jimmy Cliff Featuring Lebo M. The video uses the same format as the other ones, and the rendition doesn’t seem terribly compelling either, though it does present some alternate lyrics. (Not surprising, since it’d be pretty weird to hear Cliff sing “when I was a young warthog”.)
Information about the African Influence (Africa, “Music”) on the music appears next. The three-minute and 49-second featurette includes remarks from Don Hahn, Rob Minkoff, composer/producer Hans Zimmer, composer/song producer Mark Mancina, and executive producer Thomas Schumacher. Mostly we get notes about musician Lebo M and his contribution to the film. He’s the voice we hear at the very start of the movie, and it’s good to learn more about him and how he affected the work of the others.
Lion King spawned a musical Audio Sequel (Africa, “Music”), and we hear more about it in this four-minute and 20-second program. It includes comments from Hahn, Allers, Marl Mancina, artist/writer/producer Lebo M, Hans Zimmer, producer Jay Rifkin and Walt Disney Music President Chris Montan. We learn about their work, with some specifics about the album Rhythm of the Pride Lands. Some decent notes emerge, but once again, this featurette seems a little fluffy.
A look at the reception accorded the music shows up in Full Circle (“Music”). In the 102-second featurette, Elton John talks about winning the Oscar, while Rice, Allers, Minkoff, and Zimmer all tell us how hard everyone worked. It’s a superfluous program.
For more about the Elton John/Tim Rice partnership, we move to Landmark Songwriting (Europe, “Music”). The three-minute and 13-second piece presents statements from Schumacher, John, and Rice. We learn that King wasn’t originally intended to be a musical as well as how the pair came on board the project and their working methods. Some puffy spots appear, but we get a reasonable amount of information here.
Music Inspiration (“Music”) fills three minutes and 50 seconds and gets a little more into the African influence. We hear from Allers, John, Minkoff, Montan, Zimmer, Hahn, Roy Disney, Eisner, and Rice. It presents a particular emphasis on “Circle of Life”, and we see Elton do a solo demo version for Rice. Otherwise, not much of use shows up here, as it mostly gets into general comments about Disney movies and songs.
More notes about music appear in Orchestral Color (“Music”). This four-minute and 22-second program features information from Zimmer about the development of the story, his orchestration ideas, his instrumental choices, and his approaches to the material. It’s a tight little show that includes a good level of useful material.
We get into further musical topics in Scoring Emotion (“Music”). For this two-minute and 58 second piece, Zimmer goes over his processes in regard to the movie’s musical themes and scoring choices. As with “Color”, it’s another nice exploration of the subject.
The Lion King jumped to the stage in a successful Julie Taymor created musical, and the next few features examine it. Leaps of Fantasy (Asia, North America – New York, and “Stage”) runs three minutes and 32 seconds and mixes shots from the show with comments from Thomas Schumacher, choreographer Garth Fagan, associate choreographer Aubrey Lynch, Elton John, Hahn, and Roy Disney. Fagan’s remarks about what he wanted to do with his choreography offer some interesting moments, but the rest of the piece just touts how good the show is.
We hear about the roots of the show in Musical Origins (North America – New York, “Stage”). Through the three minute and 46 second piece, we get notes from Schumacher, Irene Mecchi, show co-producer Peter Schneider, Hahn, Allers, Rice, John, Roy Disney, Eisner, and show director Julie Taymor. They discuss the enormous skepticism that greeted Eisner’s proposal to move Lion King to the stage and learn about conceptual choices to make it work. Some of the usual puffiness appears, but the program presents a reasonably amount of useful notes.
The adaptation of the songs and score get covered in Musical Texture (North America – New York, “Stage”). It takes three minutes, 11 seconds and presents statements from Schneider, John, Schumacher, Lebo M, Allers, Mark Mancina, and Taymor. As with many of these featurettes, it tosses out a few good nuggets, but mostly it seems light and superficial.
More comments about taking Lion King from Screen to Stage (North America – New York, “Stage”) come next. In its three minutes and 27 seconds, we hear from Roy Disney, Schumacher, Taymor, Eisner, Hahn, Mecchi, and Allers. A moderately meaty featurette, this one gets into the concepts behind the adaptation of the story and attempts to make it work.
The visuals of the show dominate Setting the Stage (North America – New York, “Stage”). The two-minutes and 14-second piece presents statements from Schneider, Schumacher, and associate director Jeff Lee. More fluff shows up, but we get a few decent remarks about costuming and stage design.
Next we examine topics connected to the story. In Story Origins (“Story”), we find a four-minute and 38-second look at inspirations for the tale. We hear from Hahn, Schumacher, Allers, co-writer Roberts, Minkoff, Hahn, Mecchi, They get into some classic themes reflected in the movie and refreshingly fully acknowledge the Hamlet connections. We even learn of how they debated how heavily to get into the Shakespearean moments. It’s one of the DVD’s more honest programs.
The film’s “lesson” gets attention in Timeless Themes (“Story”). For this three-minute and 59-second piece, we find statements from Roberts, Allers, Schumacher, Minkoff, Mecchi, and Hahn. They talk about what they wanted to emphasize as main themes in the film and address the prominence of death in the movie. “Themes” gives us a reasonably introspective look at the deeper elements of the story.
Notes about the tale’s creation come up in The Story Comes to Life (“Story”). This three-minute and 15-second piece includes notes from Hahn, Allers, and Schumacher. We learn a little about the ad hoc assemblage of some parts as well as the thematic elements related to fathers. It resembles “Themes” as it gets into some deeper topics and issues behind the story, which makes it a pretty useful program.
After this we locate Storyboard to Film Comparison (North America – Glendale). This gives us four minutes of splitscreen material. The clip presents the film’s opening, with the boards on the top of the screen and the finished flick at the bottom. It’s a good way to look at the differences between conception and execution.
In addition to the same trailer (Australia) for The Lion King 1 ˝ that already appears on DVD One, we end with Timon and Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari. This lets you take a boat cruise or a jeep trek hosted by our favorite warthog and meerkat combo. I didn’t expect much from this mostly computer animated piece, but it’s actually quite a lot of fun. Since it presents occasional choices to be made by the viewer, it enjoys decent replay value as well, since each trip will be a little different. This is one of the more entertaining DVD-exclusive extras, as it feels like a theme park ride on your TV.
Though the collection ends on a positive note, I must admit the supplements of The Lion King comes as something of a disappointment. They cover a good level of information overall, but the interface seems like a pain to navigate at times, and too many of them are fluffy and filled with praise. The supplements seem good enough to earn an “A-“, but this isn’t one of the most substantial Disney DVD releases.
No matter - The Lion King would earn my recommendation even if the DVD included no supplements. The movie stands as one of Disney’s finest and contains to impress after almost a decade. The DVD presents excellent picture and sound along with that moderately disappointing but still extensive set of supplements. Disney have produced another “must-have” DVD with this fine release of The Lion King.