Friday, November 18, 2011

The Lion King 3D / 2D Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

An unforgettable story, breathtaking animation, beloved characters and award-winning music sets the stage for “The Lion King”, a Disney classic that follows the adventures of Simba, the feisty lion cub who “just can’t wait to be king.” But his envious Uncle Scar has plans for his own ascent to the throne, and he forces Simba’s exile from the kingdom. Alone and adrift, Simba soon joins the escapades of a hilarious meerkat named Timon and his warmhearted warthog pal, Pumbaa.  Adopting their carefree lifestyle of “Hakuna Matata,” Simba ignores his real responsibilities until he realizes his destiny and returns to the pride-lands to claim his rightful place.  The all-star vocal talents include: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Robert Guillaume, and more!  Come see why this movie’s messages of courage, loyalty and hope make this a timeless tale for all ages.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

The Lion King is the 32nd film released by Walt Disney Feature Animation, which was produced during the Disney Renaissance.  It’s also the highest grossing 2D film of all time and one of the best reviewed Disney movies, but that happy ending wasn’t always guaranteed.  Originally conceived as King of the Jungle, the film went through many re-writes and changes before becoming the classic it is today.  When the The Lion King first came out I respected it but at the same I didn’t like how it liberally borrowed from Bambi, Hamlet, and other sources.  It also seemed a little too manipulative, a little too calculated to inspire awe right from the start with that “Circle of Life” of sequence, and I resisted it.  It almost seemed like it followed a checklist: dramatic opening…check, cute animals…check, tragic death of a parent…check, comic relief for the youngsters…check, and so on until the predictable end.
I’m not sure what’s changed in the last seventeen years since it’s released since I haven’t really watched it since then, but I really enjoyed it.  That’s not to say that my earlier complaints aren’t valid because all of them are still true but it still works in spite of them.  I’m not sure if the years have given me a new perspective or if it’s because I’m a father now, but the relationship between Simba and Mufasa and his sacrifice to save his son hits me a lot harder now.  I’m sure my enjoyment was also increased by my son’s enthusiasm for the movie which he hadn’t seen before.  Another huge factor in my appreciation of the movie is also due to this incredible Blu-ray set that looks and sounds amazing.
The movie starts with the birth of Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and his dramatic presentation to the rest of the animal kingdom from atop Pride Rock.  Life is good on the pride-lands for awhile and everyone loves Simba with the sole exception of his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) who barely tolerates him.  Despite his threats and his antagonism towards everyone, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) still puts up with his brother for some reason.  Being physically weaker than his brother, Scar’s only option to seize power is through Machiavellian tactics and allying himself with the mentally unstable hyenas known as Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin), and Ed (Jim Cummings).
When Simba foolishly evades his feathered chaperone Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) and goes beyond the safety of his homeland thanks to a suggestion by Scar, both Simba and his friend Nala (Niketa Calame) venture into the hyenas’ territory and into danger.  Only the last minute rescue by Mufasa saves the two cubs from being eaten.  Upset at Simba for disobeying him, Mufasa tries to teach Simba the concept of responsibility.  Simba explains that he was just trying to be brave like his father, but Mufasa tell his that he’s only brave when he has to be.  Mufasa tries to instill a sense of purpose in Simba by telling him that all of the stars above are the spirits of kings past there to guide him and he adds that he will be there for Simba too.
The next day Scar tells Simba to wait for a surprise from Mufasa in a desolate gorge as the first part of his devious new plan.  He’s already instructed the hyenas to start a stampede which he knows will draw Mufasa to the rescue again which will allow him to eliminate both problems at at the same time.  When the stampede begins and Simba is trapped and in mortal danger, Mufasa races to save him again.  Mufasa manages to save his son but when he struggles to escape himself, he’s betrayed by Scar who pushes him to his death.  Shocked and devastated by his father’s death, Simba is easy prey for Scar who convinces the young cub that everything that happened was his fault.  Guilt-ridden, Simba leaves the pride-lands to begin a self-imposed exile.
Alone, thirsty, and exhausted, Simba is saved by a meerkat named Timon (Nathan Lane) and warthog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) who find him and take care of him since they figure he’ll provide some good protection for them when he gets bigger.  Time goes on and an older Simba (Matthew Broderick) grows up with their philosophy of “Hakuna Mutata” which means no worries, which is fine for Timon and Pumbaa but it’s not the path that Mufasa had in mind for Simba.  When Mufasa’s old adviser the slightly crazy monkey named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) finds Simba in the jungle, he leads him on a path to rediscover who he truly is with help from a spectral Mufasa who has returned to advise Simba like he said he would.  Now faced with a hard decision on whether to follow his father’s example of accepting responsibility, or to continue his carefree life of freedom, Simba will have to make a life-changing choice of who he wants to be.
This movie is filled with some amazing animation that includes both traditional hand-drawn and computer generated images that coexist seamlessly together.  The Lion King harkens back to the kind of movies that Disney made while Walt was alive that had a blend of the usual happy fun filled entertainment that Disney is known for but at the same time, it’s tinged with darkness that provides a cold dose of reality.  That mixture of innocence and darkness is a tricky combination to pull off but Walt Disney did it over and over again with movies like Bambi, Pinocchio, Snow White, and more.  In a sense, The Lion King is simply a return to form for Disney and a fantastic one at that.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

Disney’s impeccable run of incredible releases continues with this stunning 1080p (1.78:1) transfer that seems tailor made for 3D.  There are some people feel that traditional 2D animation shouldn’t be converted to 3D but once they see this conversion, they might just change their mind.  While the other Disney movies looked great in 3D, this one seems like it was made for it with it’s sweeping vistas of the Savannah, the multitude of animals, and the overall scope of and ambition of the movie.  As it is to be expected, many scenes from the movie come alive like never before in 3D.  From the opening “Circle of Life” sequence that has a new depth that adds a lot of punch to it, to the musical numbers “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and “Be Prepared,” the 3D adds a lot of realism and energy to the movie.
And it’s not just the musical scenes that benefit from the 3D, but it’s the entire movie since it feels like the pride-lands have come alive.  When the stampede roars down the gorge, you will be amazed once you see it in 3D.  I don’t even have anything really to complain about since ghosting is hardly an issue at all and the transfer itself looks amazing.  Both the 3D and the regular Blu-ray are both demo-worthy discs with excellent detail and eye-popping colors.  The vibrant hues on display from the Savannah to the lush jungle are astounding in both their variety and color.  Black levels are also impressive with a rich darkness that looks fantastic.  Both versions are reference quality but I think I’m going to stick with the 3D version from here on!

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

As good as the video quality is, it still pales in comparison to this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix.  This mix is one of the finest I’ve heard and it is guaranteed to make fans of the movie very happy.  Dialogue is extremely clear from the front channels while the rest of the channels are fully utilized with music and effects.  It’s hard to quantify just how good this mix is because there’s so many moments during the movie where you are just astounded at what you are hearing.  Whether it’s hearing Mufasa’s earth-shaking roar (which made my son jump about 3 feet into the air!) or the wonderful music by Elton John and Hans Zimmer, it’s all crystal clear and has never sounded better.  The directional effects are dead on accurate and the details that you will hear in this mix will amaze you.  Just wait until you hear the thunder of the wildebeest stampede roar through your living room!  This mix is simply phenomenal!!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars)

There’s a ton of extras on here both new and old which gives you the complete collection.What couldn’t fit on the disc has been included in a new Disney feature called Disney’s Virtual Vault which is online and accessible through BD-Live.  My only complaint about these extras is the user interface could be better.  The audio commentary option is only seen after you’ve selected “”play movie” and the BD-Live extras aren’t the easiest to navigate back and forth either.  Other than that, this is a jam-packed disc filled with all new extras in high definition!
  • Audio Commentary - Producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff talk about the genesis of the film and its evolution into the final version of The Lion King.  All of these men are very informative and accessible so this is a very easy track to listen to.  If you’d like to hear more from the directors, please take a look at my round-table interview with them here.
  • Pride of The Lion King – At almost forty minutes long, this Lion King retrospective is is extremely comprehensive featurette includes comments and interviews with the cast and crew of the film including: co-directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, Executive Producer Thomas Schumacher, former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation Peter Schneider, producer Don Hahn, composer Hans Zimmer, and most surprising is the inclusion of Jeffrey Katzenberg who left Disney on bad terms and went on to lead Dreamworks Animation.
  • The Lion King: A Memoir – The film’s producer Don Hahn (who recently participated in a round-table discussion which you can find here), takes a look back at one of his most successful films.  He’s been witness to so much Disney history that it’s always entertaining and informative listening to him.
  • Disney’s Virtual Vault – With almost two hours of extras in the Virtual Vault alone, this will keep you busy!   Made up of previous extras that were found on earlier releases, this makes the collection complete although I would have preferred another disc of extras instead.  Who knows how long the Virtual Vault will remain available?  Here are the following extras you can find in the Vault: “The Making of The Morning Report” ; even morel deleted scenes including “Bug Football,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”; six “Musical Journey” featurettes; a “Circle of Life” music video with Elton John; five “Stage Journey” featurettes ; seven “Film Journey” featurettes; three “Story Journey” featurettes ; a “Storyboard to Film Comparison” ; two “Early Concepts,” “Timon & Pumbaa Find Simba” and “Simba’s Presentation” ; and an abandoned scene, “Warthog Rhapsody”. I’ve heard reports of some players not being able to view these extras so make sure you update your firmware before viewing them.
  • Deleted & Alternate Scenes – The directors present five deleted and alternate scenes: “Zazu Flatters Mufasa,” “King of the Wild,” “Scar Wants Nala As His Queen,” “Simba and Nala Reunited” and “Zazu Flatters Scar.”
  • The Morning Report - An extra song that was originally written for the stage musical based on the film and incorporated into the IMAX re-release makes a return.  It’s a quick scene with Zazu giving Mufasa an update on the goings on in the pride-lands.
  • Bloopers & Outtakes – After  Pixar started doing it, now all of Disney seems to be doing these manufactured bloopers which don’t work as well as they do for Pixar.
  • Interactive Art Gallery – Four galleries of images are divided into sections titled: “Character Design,” “Visual Development,” “Storyboards” and “Layouts and Backgrounds.”  This is for the hardcore fans since there’s hundreds of pictures spread across the various sections.
  • Sing-Along Mode – Think you can sing as well as Elton John or one of the film’s characters?  If you do, check out this karaoke sing-along extra that allows you to sing the film’s songs.
  • Disney Second Screen – Download this app from the Apple App Store and sync  it with The Lion King to get access to extra content such as interactive games, storyboards and concept art from the film, animation tests, trivia, and more.

Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars)

The Lion King is a movie that I’m sure Walt Disney himself would be proud of since it explores many of the same themes that he covered himself.  The movie is emotional, funny, scary, has a memorable villain, and this fantastic cast pulls it off with aplomb.  Firmly part of the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King is without a doubt a masterpiece and well deserving of the success and praise it received.
Order your copy today!


  1. The lion king was one of the blockbuster animation movie all over the world. I really like the information you have shared about the cartoons. there are many designers who use this technique. Thanks for the article. 2d animation

  2. Hi Abell,

    Thanks for the compliment and for reading the site! I'm a big supporter of 2D animation so I'm always happy to shine a spotlight on those films, especially when they are as well done as The Lion King!