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"The Lion King" DVD Satisfies Where It Needs To

Discussion in 'The Animated Word' started by Dave Koch, Jan 14, 2014.

  1. Dave Koch

    Dave Koch Cartoon Admin

    Oct 27, 2013
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    [​IMG] The former box-office champ of the animated genre (recently ousted by a couple of CGI clownfish) made its way to the DVD format this week, making it the third in Disney's Platinum Edition line and the second in Disney's process of remastering and reworking films for the IMAX theaters . It sports a first for the series with the inclusion of an never-before-seen musical number ("Human Again" from Beauty and the Beast was seen in the IMAX), and an all-new digital transfer, along with the standard slew of extras. So why does it disappoint -- or, more accurately, why does it come off as satisfactory for the core features and yet still seem incomplete?

    The Movie:

    Let's get this out of the way first: I love this movie. I always have, and I always will. So there's little use in me trying to me "objective" about the film itself. Fact is, anybody who hasn't seen it needs to find a new apartment, because that rock is a lousy place to live under. The film is the same ol' masterpiece we remember, and if there's any good that can come from the film being light on the whole special-edition treatment, it's that the film itself can shine more brightly as the main attraction of the DVD set.
    A more important note about the film is the new digital transfer the DVD sports. Simply put, The Lion King looks and sounds more beautiful than I remember it from its 1994 theatrical release. They went back and spruced up the image so well that it felt new even to me, and I watch this film least once a month on my old VHS copy. Additionally, for a release that's pretty obviously geared towards children (something I'll talk about later), kudos to Disney for deciding to stick with the original aspect ratio despite their inability to provide an alternative for anti-widescreen philistines. (In the DVD insert, they provide an amusingly convoluted solution for people who insist upon full-screen, one requiring that the customer have a zoom feature on their DVD player.)

    The biggest selling point for this DVD is likely to be the new scene added to the film: "The Morning Report", a song for Zazu that was particularly popular in the film's stage adaptation. Unfortunately, the scene is really quite short and comes very early in the film, so it's a real nonentity for the most part. The segue into the new scene is so good that it took me a second to notice the new material, but coming out there's a slight pause in the disc. Just a nitpick, but that's what I'm supposed to notice. Opinions about the new song are likely to vary from fair enjoyment to violent anger. I personally don't think it fits too well, given nature of the song; the tone was significantly different in the original. Some things should probably be left to the stage. It shouldn't be too much of a bother, though, since the original version of the film is still here to view.

    The Extras:
    lion_king1.jpg Here's where things start going sour. Not all is bad, however; in fact, there's some very nice inclusions. The commentary from Don Hahn, Rob Minkoff, and Roger Allers is excellent, with very few dead spots and plenty of variance between behind-the-scenes jokes and anecdotes and actual, informational shoptalk. I must, in particular, praise Don Hahn, who's been on a few of these commentaries now and has always led an energetic and entertaining chat between himself and the other artists. As is standard practice for these Disney DVDs now, the making-of documentaries are split up into their various subjects, and much of the talk about the history of the film (for you anime nuts -- no, there's no mention of Tezuka; insert your conspiracy theories here) and it's very interesting to hear how it was perceived by the studio before it was released -- it was considered a "B" picture to Pocahontas' "A" picture. Consider where those two fell in the annals of Disney's history.

    But there's a few problems with the documentaries. For one, there's nothing about the voice cast. At all. For a film like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Sleeping Beauty, where the cast is all deceased and none of which were particularly famous, this would not be too much of a surprise. But The Lion King had one of the most famous casts in animated history, and is often listed among the best achievements of its actors. The fact that there's no chiming in from James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, or Matthew Broderick makes this whole release feel especially lacking. Also, unlike the rather handy-dandy format of Beauty and the Beast's mini-documentaries, there's no full play-all feature. There are confusing compilations labeled by continent, or simple subject-related menus (you'll definitely want to go with the latter). What annoys me most is the lack of actual movie focus in these documentaries -- there's more on the stage production than there is on the story creation. I wish they hadn't wasted the space, frankly.

    There are further features to the set that fall under the category "Only If You Were Interested In The First Place." Things like deleted scenes/storyboard pitches, Elton John music videos, and annoyingly constructed games are only going to appeal to you if you like watching or doing those in the first place. To be honest, I really don't know why Disney bothers with these DVD games. Do kids really like them? My little sister gets bored by them within two seconds. What sort of testing is it that Disney uses that convinces them that this is the way to go? I wouldn't bother with them unless you were really into that journey through the Beast's castle on the previous DVD.

    The Bottom Line:

    Is this a mediocre release? Heavens, no. I came to this thing expecting two things at the core -- great transfer, and some good behind-the-scenes stuff. For the most part, the DVD delivers on both. But there's a lot of padding and a lot of wasted space, and it knocks the release down a few pegs. If you were demanding a more lavish treatment for the set to earn your hard-to-get cash, then you might be in for a significant disappointment. For the rest of us who care about the movie more than anything else, it's worth your dough, but I doubt you'll want to really explore the thing as thoroughly as you would other DVDs.

    A critique by Alex Weitzman

    This review originally appeared at Toon Zone.

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