The Lion King appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, this was an impressive presentation.
From start to finish, the movie displayed excellent clarity. All shots exhibited good to great definition, as nary a soft spot appeared. The image lacked jaggies or moiré effects, and it also showed no signs of edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent, as the movie was always clean and fresh.
With its jungle setting, King gave us a wide, varied palette that the Blu-ray replicated well. From the lush landscapes to the animals to all other elements, the hues always came across as lively and tight. Black levels looked solid, while low-light images were concisely displayed and tight, with no excessive opacity. This was a consistently excellent visual presentation.
The Lion King also provided a pretty strong DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that featured a very active soundfield. All the 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.
Overall audio quality seemed excellent. Speech across as natural and crisp, without obvious issues connected to the lines. 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. This was a nice auditory experience.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD? The audio seemed warmer and richer, and the visuals came across as tighter and more dynamic. In other words, we got the usual improvements we expect from Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. We start with an audio commentary from directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff with producer Don Hahn. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific track recorded in 1995 for the film’s laserdisc.
Don’t regard the piece’s age 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.
You can also view the movie in Sing-Along Mode. This simply runs subtitles for the movie’s songs. It seems kind of pointless to me, but it doesn’t hurt to include it, I guess.
Under Bloopers and Outtakes, we get a three-minute, 44-second reel that provides an unusual piece. It takes a mix of actual slip-ups and jokes from the voice recording session and matches them to the animated animal “actors”. That’s an unusual approach but it’s kind of fun.
Next we find two featurettes. Pride of The Lion King goes for 38 minutes, six seconds and offers notes from Minkoff, Allers, Hahn, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher, former Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider, score composer Hans Zimmer, former Walt Disney Company chairman/CEO Michael Eisner, lyricist Tim Rice, stage musical director Julie Taymor, supervising animators Andreas Deja, Tony Bancroft, Michael Surrey, Ellen Woodbury, James Baxter, and Ruben Aquino, and actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. “Pride” looks at various aspects of the production like cast and performances, design and animation, music, promotion and the movie’s success/legacy.
“Pride” doesn’t provide an especially concise, logical look at Lion King, as it flits around and brings us a pretty anecdotal piece. That could’ve been a mess, but it actually works pretty well, mostly because we find so many enjoyable comments. In particular, I love the gathering of Schneider, Broderick and Lane at Sardi’s; they offer a mix of amusing, insightful notes. This is a loose piece but it’s a fun and informative one.
We hear from the producer in the awkwardly-titled The Lion King: A Memoir – Don Hahn. It runs 19 minutes, 40 seconds as Hahn provides a “home movie” to look at Lion King. We see photos and vintage video along with notes from Hahn, Schneider, Katzenberg, Allers, Minkoff, Schumacher, Deja, former animation department head Roy Disney, original director George Scribner, story writer Chris Sanders, character designer Lisa Keene and songwriter Elton John. “Memoir” provides a quick overview of aspects related to the film’s creation.
I don’t know if “Memoir” is related to Hahn’s Waking Sleeping Beauty, but it feels like it could’ve been a segment from that documentary. I’m fine with that; Waking was a good piece, and “Memoir” works just as well. Like “Pride”, it’s not the most concise show, but it includes nice details and moves well.
Five Deleted and Alternate Scenes come next. Including introductions from Allers and Minkoff, these run a total of 14 minutes, 33 seconds. We find “Zazu Flatters Mufasa” (0:27), “’King of the Wild’” (2:23), “Scar Wants Nala As His Queen” (5:09), “Simba and Nala Reunited” (3:19) and “Zazu Flatters Scar” (0:52). All of these consist of story reels that show filmed storyboards combined with audio. Some use the actors who appear in the film, while others feature scratch dialogue/vocals.
Should any of them have made the final cut? Probably not, but some interesting side stories appear. “Queen” allows Nala to have a little more screen time and creates an intriguing love triangle theme; it’s probably the best of the bunch. On the other hand, “King of the Wild” is a dud; in it, Mufasa croons a jaunty tune, and it doesn’t work for the character.
As noted, Allers and Minkoff introduce each of the scenes. They give us basics about the sequences and quick thoughts about why they cut the segments. I’d like more info about the latter subject, but the intros are decent.
Found on the prior DVD, a new song called The Morning Report was integrated into the film there. Don’t expect a substantial production number. Instead, this tune simply substitutes for Zazu’s spoken chat with Mufasa early in the movie. It’s a short song and only added 44 seconds to the film’s running time. It’s not especially interesting, but it’s okay, and I’m glad it appears here, though I’m surprised we didn’t get the alternate version of the flick that included it; if the DVD provided two versions of the movie, why doesn’t the Blu-ray?
With that we head to an Interactive Blu-ray Gallery. This gives us stills split into four different areas: “Character Design” (165 images), “Visual Development” (115), “Storyboards” (84), and “Layouts and Backgrounds” (50). We see a lot of interesting art in this comprehensive collection.
The disc opens with ads for Lady and the Tramp, The Muppets, Cars 2 and Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games. These also appear under Sneak Peeks along with clips for DisneyNature: African Cats, the Lion King stage musical, Tteasure Buddies, Prep and Landing: Naughty Vs. Nice, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Secret of the Wings, Cinderella and the two Lion King direct-to-video sequels. No trailer for Lion King appears here.
A second disc provides a DVD Copy of Lion King. This is a retail version of the DVD, which makes it a decent bonus.
If you look at my review of the original 2003 Lion King DVD, you’ll see that a whole lot of extras didn’t get ported over for this set. However, Disney will claim that you can still access them – you just can’t find them on one of the package’s disc.
How does this work? The Blu-ray comes with a feature called “Disney’s Virtual Vault”. Also found on the Fantasia Blu-ray, this ostensibly allows you to find the old features on-line. That’s pretty lame. Why not just include the original two-DVD set as a bonus here? That’ll give people a nice extra and cover all the bases. “Virtual Vault” is a lousy excuse for a “supplement”.
While that bugs me, The Lion King would earn my recommendation even if the Blu-ray included no supplements. The movie stands as one of Disney’s finest and contains to impress after 17 years. The Blu-ray presents excellent picture and sound; it disappoints in terms of extras, though the materials we find here are all good. It stinks that fans will need to keep their old DVDs to own all the bonus materials, but the picture and audio upgrade here seems substantial, so the Blu-ray merits your attention.
To rate this film, visit the Platinum Edition review of THE LION KING