The Lion King
The second age of Disney greatness made raising children in the 1990s a real treat. Taking youngsters to an animated film recreated some of the magic the parents experience when they were first brought to the theater. To its credit, Disney continued to carefully curate its collection of classic films, filling in the gaps left by the far more mediocre fare that marked the 1970s and 1980s. Interestingly, one of those final films was where one of the current age’s greatest was born.
I still remember sitting in the theater with the kids and saw the trailer for The Lion King, which consisted of the opening song, a gutsy move but a brilliant one. Everything you needed to know was present; the sheer majesty of the animal kingdom, the quality of the animation and color palette, and the amazing score.
The fourth film from the Jeffrey Katzenberg/Michael Eisner regime, The Lion King felt special from the outset and has remained that way despite repeated viewings. Now finally out on Blu-ray today, the movie looks and sounds better than ever.
One of the reasons, the movie works is that it deals with universal themes, notably those of coming of age and the relationship between father and son. While the notion of the “Circle of Life” may have been beaten to death since it was reinforced here, respecting the life cycle is a good lesson for audiences young and old alike.
In the best of the Disney tradition, the film also nicely blends action, drama, and humor so it has a rhythm of its own. The littlest viewers can giggle at Timon and Pumba’s antics while others can feel the adrenaline pump during the battles, but there is certainly something for everyone, done with style and panache.
What’s interesting is that once the film’s concept was put into active development, it had to compete for animators with Pocahontas, which most saw as the next slam dunk film. Freed from the same level of scrutiny, the younger animators who signed on rose to the challenge and then some. It was inspired to blend Tim Rice and Elton John for the songs while Hans Zimmer delivered one of his finest scores.
The usual array of extras for a Diamond Edition film are all on display, and actually had me ready for more. The package contains Blu-ray and a standard DVD discs and comes with a fine user interface. New to this collection is a 39 minute “Pride of the Lion King” featurette that reunites former Chairman Katzenberg, Zimmer, producer Don Hahn, and co-directors Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff. This is followed with an additional 21 minutes of memories, “The Lion King: A Memoir”, hosted by Han. The co-directors introduce five previously unseen Deleted Scenes, explaining how these did not make the final cut. Also represented is the missing song, “Morning Report”, which was restored for the Broadway adaptation. The affection for the movie is demonstrated with the freshly animated Gag Reel with outtakes produced specifically for the disc.
The extras from the previously released Platinum edition return here so you get the audio commentary, Art Gallery, and the Sing-Along Mode.
If you have an iPad, the film comes with the new Disney Second Screen app stuffed with production art and interactive games. For those who use the BD-Live function, this one comes with the “Virtual Vault” access which will show you “The Making of ‘The Morning Report'”, three additional Deleted Scenes, “Stage, Film, Story and Musical Journey” featurettes, Elton John’s “Circle of Life” music video, a Film-to-Storyboard Comparison, two short Demo Sequences and an Unfinished Scene.
One thing I wish they addressed head on was an acknowledgement in some way that the film owed a debt to Osama Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion. The parallels are too striking for it to have been sheer coincidence.
As we enter the holiday season, this goes on your Must Have list.