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Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin
Writing Credits:
Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton

Life's greatest adventure is finding your place in the Circle of Life.

The wait is over. For the first time ever, experience the majesty of Disney’s epic animated masterpiece as it roars off the screen and into your living room on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. With a spectacular digital picture, spine-tingling high definition sound and immersive bonus features—you will feel the love for this critically acclaimed and universally beloved classic like never before.

Embark on an extraordinary coming-of-age adventure as Simba, a lion cub who cannot wait to be king, searches for his destiny in the great “Circle of Life.” You will be thrilled by the breathtaking animation, unforgettable Academy Award®–winning music (1994: Best Original Score; Best Song, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”) and timeless story. The king of all animated films reigns on Disney Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D—magic in a new dimension.

Box Office:
$79.3 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.825 million on 66 screens.
Domestic Gross
$15.683 million.

Rated G

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 10/4/2011

• Audio Commentary with Producer Don Hahn and Directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
• Sing-Along Mode
• Bloopers and Outtakes
• “Pride of The Lion King” Featurette
• “The Lion King: A Memoir – Don Hahn” Featurette
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes with Introductions
• “The Morning Report” Extended Scene
• Interactive Blu-ray Gallery
• Sneak Peeks
• Bonus DVD


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Lion King [Blu-Ray] (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 26, 2011)

Without question, 1994’s The Lion King represented the apex of Disney’s resurgence in its era. 1989’s The Little Mermaid brought them back to prominence after a long down period, and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast marked a level of hitherto unseen critical praise as the movie earned the first-ever Best Picture nomination for an animated flick. 1992’s Aladdin didn’t duplicate that feat, but for the first time in many years, it produced a Disney animated film that won the race for the year’s top box office total.

Lion King didn’t break new ground in any of these categories. It didn’t get an Oscar nomination, and it came in second place at the box office behind Forrest Gump. However, with a gross of $328 million, it made more money than any traditionally animated Disney movie before or after, and it demonstrated just how far the studio had come since the dark days of the Eighties when Disney animation barely survived.

Unfortunately, cel animation is once again an endangered species, and it’s hard to believe it’s only been 17 years since King lit up box offices. I’ve dwelled on those issues elsewhere and won’t do so here; traditional animation’s in enough trouble that I don’t want to kick it again. Instead, let’s focus on the positives, and King surely presents one of Disney’s greatest achievements.

King opens with a ceremony in which we meet Simba, the heir to the throne of feline sovereign Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). His shifty and self-pitying brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) skips the big event, which earns him Mufasa’s animosity. We quickly learn of Scar’s animosity toward little Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) since the youngster supplanted him as next in line for the throne.

This leads to the story’s main plot point. Scar conspires with some hyenas named Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin), and Ed (Jim Cummings) to off both Mufasa and Simba so Scar can become king. This succeeds partially, as he stages a wildebeest stampede that kills Mufasa. Scar convinces Simba that the lad caused his dad’s demise, and the youngster runs away from home. Scar sends the hyenas to finish him off, but when they see him scoot into desolate land, they decide he’s as good as dead anyway and don’t bother to act.

However, an unlikely duo of Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella) saves Simba. A pair of outcasts, they live for today and don’t worry about the past. Given his guilt, Simba embraces their “problem-free philosophy” and grows up with the guys in relative pleasure.

Ultimately, though, Simba learns he can’t escape his past. With Scar in charge of the pride, his homeland lies in ruins. Childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly) goes out to look for help and she encounters Simba (Matthew Broderick) when she attempts to chow down on Pumbaa. He learns what happened to the pridelands but resists her efforts to get him to return, even though romance blossoms between the pair. Eventually, though, primate shaman Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) tracks down Simba and teaches him a little about his regal heritage and the way things work. This sets up the film’s climax in which he confronts Scar and attempts to fix matters.

Though the folks at Disney touted The Lion King as an original story – unlike most of their flicks, which come based on previously created tales – I’d take that declaration with a grain of salt. There’s an awful lot of Hamlet to be found in this movie, and partisans of Japanese animation are also more than happy to point out the flick’s similarities with the Kimba series.

No matter. Whether or not one considers Lion King to offer an original tale, it works spectacularly well. From literally its opening moments, the movie sets itself apart as something special. The musical number “Circle of Life” and the ceremony in which the jungle animals pay homage to Simba launches the film in a daring and dramatic manner. It runs four and a half minutes without a word of dialogue. We don’t know who these characters are or why we should care about them.

And none of that matters in the least. I’m not a big fan of the songs Elton John and Tim Rice wrote for the flick, but the arrangement of “Circle of Life” seems imposing and majestic, and the visuals match the tune. “Life” opens the film in a moving and striking manner that firmly sets the stage for what will come.

After that remarkable introduction, one might fear that the movie would falter, but it never does. Oh, some parts seem less compelling than others. Despite its commercial – and Oscar – success, I still find “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to offer one of Elton John’s more insipid numbers, and frankly, a lot of the elements that involve the romance between Nala and Simba seem extraneous. It often feels like they occur just because it’s a Disney movie and you need some lovin’ and wooin’, even if it is between animals.

Other than that minor misstep, though, I’d be hard-pressed to find much fault with Lion King. I can’t think of a single scene that falls flat, and nor can I conjure a voice actor who fails to provide stellar work. Irons stands out from the crowd with his sneering and insolent performance as Scar, and Jones brings the right level of depth and regal presence to Mufasa. As the adult Simba, Broderick appears appropriately unsure of himself, but he pulls things together well when he needs to become more powerful. Thomas seems nicely spry and frisky as little Simba, and he also turns the character’s emotional moments into ones that pack a definite punch.

Speaking of those moments, at times it feels hard to believe that the animators can generate so much emotion from the experiences of cartoon animals. Sure, they’d elicited tears in the past; heck, Disney’s first-ever full-length animated feature demonstrated that ability via the apparent demise of Snow White.

However, most of the emotional Disney flicks involved humans. Lion King has to make us care about jungle animals, which seems like no small feat. It does so spectacularly well, particularly in the aftermath of the wildebeest stampede.

In a movie full of memorable sequences, the charge of the wildebeest stands out as probably its greatest achievement. At the time, it received a lot of attention for its pioneering use of computer animation to stage the shots of thousands of animals on the charge. The power of the images remains, but that’s not what makes the scene so strong.

Instead, it’s the dramatic staging of the sequence. The animators play up the scene for all its emotional worth, and it turns incredibly powerful. It’s almost impossible not to feel shocked and distraught when Scar turns on Mufasa, and the poignancy of little Simba’s reactions to his father’s demise remains heartrending. Put simply, this sequence is a stunner of action and emotion.

Despite the power of the wildebeest scene, however, the movie doesn’t run out of gas. No single element may live up to that one, but the remainder of the film continues to impress. It helps that we find possibly Disney’s best-ever comic sidekicks in Timon and Pumbaa. Sabella and Lane exhibit terrific chemistry together and they make the token buddies into some of the studio’s most memorable characters.

I probably wouldn’t claim that The Lion King is my all-time favorite Disney animated film, but it resides very high on that list. As much as I enjoy other contemporary Disney flicks like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, The Lion King stands above them all as something extra special. It represents the studio’s high-water mark commercially and remains a terrific movie.

The Disc Grades: Picture A/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

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

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main