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The Lion King

The Lion King on DVD

The Lion King proves Disney studios could still make animated masterpieces when it put its mind to it, even in the 1990's.

And the 2 disc DVD release is further proof that Disney is one of the best studios for using the digital disc format to its best potential.

The Lion King tells the tale of young cat Simba, prince of the beautiful Pride Lands, who is convinced to run away from home after his evil and jealous uncle kills his father Mufasa and convinces Simba that it was he, the young lion prince’s fault.

Simba meets the typically Disney cute Timon and Pumbaa, who befriend him and teach him their “No worries” carefree lifestyle where responsibility is shunned in favor of living for the moment.

Sort of like Hollywood...

But the Pride Lands, now under the totalitarian control of uncle Scar and his evil hyena friends, have become a barren land laid waste. Not a nice place to be.

Then Simba’s childhood friend and betrothed, Nala, happens upon Simba and friends while on a hunting trip. It’s a heartwarming reunion, perfect for bringing in the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and in the process it also helps Simba realize once again who he is and what his responsibilities are.

Nala doesn’t do it by herself; Rafiki, a mystical ape who’s also known Simba since he was a cub, forces him to look inside himself to see that Mufasa still lives, inside Simba.

Anyway, you can guess the rest. Simba goes home and confronts Scar and, after a battle, takes his rightful place as The Lion King and all ends well with a complete turn of the Circle of Life.

What a wonderful story! This isn’t just Disney cute, though there’s plenty of that; it’s a smart story, timeless in its scope and humanity, and executed brilliantly by the team at Disney. And it's quite intense at times, though probably no worse for today's kids than parts of Bambi or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were for kids of that generation.

The songs are wonderful (though we have to admit the new one “Morning Report” in the Special Edition version of the film doesn’t add a thing), the vocal talent is first rate, and the animation, featuring some early computer work, is top notch.

Then there’s the DVD. Once again the Disney studio has released a masterpiece of a disc, of quality sufficiently excellent to please the video snob, yet with enough extra stuff on it to keep the ankle biters occupied for hours.

The disc features both versions of the movie, the original and the “Special Edition.” We prefer the original, but that’s neither here nor there. Audio and video quality are superb, as one would expect from Disney and from the THX certification process though which this disc has gone.

The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and it’s glorious! We were a tad concerned when we saw the previews for Lion King on other Disney discs, because it didn’t look much better than the old laserdisc we have. But we needn’t have worried; this new digital transfer is magnificent, with a razor sharp image, and deep and rich colors that exploit the DVD medium - and digital widescreen TV, very well.

Audio is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and a new wrinkle, Disney’s 5.1 “enhanced home theater mix.” The latter seems kind of like the original Dolby Digital track on steroids, and that works just fine with us. Both tracks sound great, but the enhanced version just has a little extra “oomph” that’ll rattle the pictures on the wall when elephants walk or wildebeest stampede. It’s terrific.

We didn’t really give a hoot about the extras, we’re so happy with the movie itself, but we should at least introduce you to them. We did give a hoot about the menus, which are ponderous and difficult to skip through.

Disc one, besides the digitally restored and remastered movie, includes some deleted scenes and audio commentaries. There’s also a sing along track and the music videos “Circle of Life” performed by the Disney Channel stars and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John.

Disc two takes you beyond the movie, letting you explore the Lion King phenomenon in five different areas. You can poke around behind the scenes footage, learn about character design (and we loved the way they got the cats’ movements down so right!), the computer animation (which, compared to today, is pretty rudimentary - though it certainly works!), African art inspiration (you’ll have to look yourself to find out who “African Art” is). It’s all pretty interesting stuff, we guess, but as mentioned we were so enamored with the movie the rest was merely gilding the lily.

Anyway, there’s also the usual kiddie games: Virtual Safari, Grab A Grub, Personality Profile & Sound Sensations, and some other stuff such as interviews with Elton John and Tim Rice, the origins of the story, etc.

Legions of fans have loved The Lion King. This new Disney DVD gives them even more reasons to love it -and to keep it.

The Lion King, from Walt Disney Home Video
90 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1, 16x9 TV compatible) Dolby Digital 5.1 and Enhanced Home Theater mix


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