The Lion King II: Simba's Pride appears in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although I didn't expect much from it, since it would seem to be a lower-budget effort, I was very pleasantly surprised by the terrific quality of the picture.
Pride offered a fine example of how great animation can look on DVD. Sharpness appeared consistently fine and crisp. Virtually no instances of softness crept into this tight and concise presentation. Jagged edges and shimmering were absent, as was edge enhancement. Print quality appeared terrific, with no flaws of any kind to be found.
Colors looked absolutely fantastic throughout the film. They seemed consistently bright and bold with no evidence of smearing or other problems. The film used a palette oriented toward natural earthy tones, and the DVD reproduced them nicely. Black levels appeared nearly ideal, with good depth and darkness, while shadow detail looked appropriate and nicely translucent. I found Lion King II to provide a very satisfying visual experience.
Whereas the original DVD of Lion King II only included a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the new special edition added a DTS 5.1 mix. That and three dollars will get you a cup of coffee. The DTS and Dolby tracks sounded identical to me.
The audio generated a strong soundfield, with a forward emphasis but also with a nice surround effect. Sound from the front channels was well-defined and nicely placed but avoided seeming too localized, and audio panned cleanly across the speakers. A nice complement of effects and music came from the rears, and this audio helped round out the image to provide a very effective mix.
Audio quality seemed very good. Dialogue always came across as smooth and concise, with no edginess or issues connected to intelligibility. Effects sounded bold and dynamic, with nice support from the lower end. Music also was full-bodied and rich and they present no distortion.
When I went to compare this version of Lion King II with the original 1999 release, I couldn’t do so directly because I no longer own the old DVD and I couldn’t find a copy for rent. Based on my prior review, I’d say that the pair present similar picture and audio. I had no complaints about the visuals of the old one and gave it an excellent rating. I surmise that I’d prefer the new one due to its anamorphic enhancement, but I doubt that the old one would look significantly inferior. Both discs should offer virtually identical audio quality.
While the original Lion King II DVD included almost no supplements, this new two-DVD special edition tosses in more materials. On DVD One, we start with Lion King’s Matter-of-Facts, a subtitle trivia track. This presents information about the different animals we see in the flick. It’s meant for kids, so it’s pretty basic, but it offers a cute little feature.
Disc One also provides Disney’s Song Selection. This basically acts as an alternate form of chapter menu. It lets you jump to any of the film’s six song performances, and it also allows you to show on-screen lyrics.
As DVD One starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Aladdin, and Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for Mulan, Home on the Range, the Disney Princess line of products, and the stage version of The Lion King.
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.
Now we go to DVD Two where the extras divide into a variety of areas. Under “Music & More”, all we get is a music video for “Love Will Find a Way” by Kenny Lattimore and Heather Headley. (Why call it “Music & More” with only one component?) It’s little more than the usual lip-synch/movie snippet blandness, though it emphasizes the singers’ emoting more than the shots from the flick.
Within “Games & Activities” we locate three subdomains. Timon and Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari 2.0 offers a sequel to a similar feature on the Lion King and Lion King 1.5 DVDs. This lets you ride through the jungle along with our favorite warthog and meerkat combo. Like the movie itself, “Safari 2.0” wasn’t as interesting as the first two iterations; it lacked the spark and flair of those pieces. Oddly, though the first two used both the original voice actors for Timon and Pumbaa, only Ernie Sabella reappears here; we get a stand-in for Nathan Lane, and not a very good one at that.
In Pride Land Games, we go through some more activities with Timon and Pumbaa. These require you to identify geometric shapes, add simple digits, and match shapes and numbers. These are very simplistic and meant only for little ones. They come with no reward for completion.
Finally, “Games & Activities” ends with Rafiki’s Challenge. This just offers a jungle take on the Shell Game that requires you to follow an object hidden and moved. It’s not much fun.
Next we head to “Backstage Disney” and three different domains. Find Out Why presents five short featurettes to explain the facts behind certain concepts. Each one goes for 90 seconds as they cover topics like how airplanes fly and why pandas don’t live in the desert. Timon and Pumbaa explain things. These are fun and informative pieces for kids. (Note that Nathan Lane appears here instead of the Timon imposter.)
More facts show up in Lots About Lions. This two-minute and 52-second piece brings back Timon (the fake one) and Pumbaa to offer basic facts about lions. It’s not as much fun as “Find Out Why”, but it provides decent basics for kids.
“Backstage” ends with a featurette called Proud of Simba’s Pride. It runs six minutes and 49 seconds as we get notes from director Darrell Rooney, executive in charge of production Sharon Morrill, producer Jeannine Roussel, and actors Sabella, Lane, Neve Campbell, Matthew Broderick, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jason Marsden. It goes through basic production notes like the story, challenges of following the original, themes, and the visual look. It’s a very basic piece without depth, so while it seems mildly entertaining, it doesn’t tell us much.
The extras end with an original short called One By One. This five-minute and 40-second cartoon gets the deluxe treatment with anamorphic 1.66:1 visuals and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The short itself - about African children who make homemade kites - is visually attractive but not very interesting.
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride offers a rather blah semi-remake of the original and should provide little interest in the long run. Of the three Lion King films to date, it’s the least compelling, as I much preferred the original flick as well as the wacky Lion King 1 1/2. As for the DVD, picture and sound seemed excellent, but the new two-disc special edition failed to present many good extras.
For new viewers, I can’t recommend Lion King II. It’s a mediocre movie at best. If you already own the old disc and wonder if you should upgrade, I’d say no. The original looked and sounded quite good, and this one doesn’t add supplements that make it worth a repurchase. Lion King fans can do better than this dull sequel.