Our review of The Lion King (Blu-ray), published October 3rd, 2011, is also available.
Feel the Love
In an age of marketing overexposure, when a company takes too much of a good thing and runs it right into the ground, it is invigorating to return to the original source and rediscover the magic. Since the rebirth and subsequent renaissance of Disney Feature Animation following the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989, the Michael Eisner-led Disney marketing machine has taken every single animated property and bled them dry. Half-baked direct-to-video sequels, cut-rate television series, over produced stage shows, mass merchandising, and cheesy product tie-ins have combined to hit us over the head 24 hours a day with everything Disney. You can't escape it or avoid being affected by it. While good for the company coffers, it dilutes the inherent value of what once was considered to be something quite special. How refreshing it is then to cleanse the palate and return to a classic like The Lion King with a fresh perspective.
Facts of the Case
The Pridelands: a small slice of heaven on Earth, where nature exists in peace and harmony, under the benevolent rule of Mufasa, the Lion King. Yet all wise beings know the circle of life will call upon them to complete their tasks and move on to the next world. Mufasa tries to impart this wisdom to his son, Simba, but the young cub is too preoccupied with life and all its potential to hear or comprehend. Like most youngsters, they must learn their lessons the hard way. In a nurturing and supportive environment, this is generally not a bad way to educate oneself. However, the world can be a cruel place, even within a loving family.
Enter Scar, Mufasa's brother. Scar has lived his adult life self-exiled, in the shadow of his better looking, more successful, universally adored sibling. Instead of using their differences as a source of inspiration and betterment, he has chosen instead to brandish them as an excuse for his failures and shortcomings, sharpening them as a weapon to be used at the most opportune moment. Capitalizing upon Simba's youthful exuberance and reckless abandon, Scar manipulates his nephew into playing the key role in his ascension to power—his perceived entitlement to the leadership of the pride. Believing these events to be all his doing, Simba flees from his home and family in shame and disgrace, never to return.
Following years of abuse and neglect under King Scar, the Pridelands have been decimated to the point of being uninhabitable. The lionesses have been forced to hunt outside their boundaries in order for the pride to survive. It is one such young lioness, Nala, who discovers the exiled Simba and triggers the next part of his journey, one which will force him to face the ghosts and demons of his past, to save the ones he loves.
For all its acclaim and notoriety, The Lion King was one Disney project nobody wanted. Billed as Bambi in Africa, the assignment was shunned by all of the studio's A-list talent in favor of Pocahontas. As such, the B-Team was called in. Most had little or no prime-time experience, giving the project a very family-like atmosphere. Through rewrites and concept changes, they developed an underdog mentality, setting out to prove everyone wrong. It must have worked because the result is an animated masterpiece.
The Lion King is without question one of the most successful Disney films of all time—the perfect blend of story, design, acting, music, and direction. Yet with this success has come controversy. Some detractors claim the film is a blatant rip-off of Osama Tezuka's Jungulu Taitei, a highly regarded 1950s manga series, later adapted into anime form. Others feel the story tracks too closely to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Regardless of your position, one cannot argue with the passionate response this film generates. Even now, ten years later, the power these characters possess is clearly evident.
Mufasa is the loving father, always doing what is best for his family and his world. Drawing upon both Native American and Buddhist philosophies, he walks tall, carrying a big stick, and showing the utmost respect to every element of the world in which he lives. In the end, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the life of his son, and with him the hope for a better future.
Scar, damaged by the failings of life's promise, has chosen to define himself by these events. Focused solely upon himself and his wants, needs, and desires, he is oblivious to the impact his actions have on the animals and the environment that surrounds him.
Simba represents the majority of us, thrown into a world that is both unfamiliar and invigorating. Unspoiled by the hardships of life, every day is filled with limitless adventure and unending possibilities. Yet his naïveté and trusting nature leaves him vulnerable to those who seek to force others to share in the pain and suffering to which they themselves have fallen victim.
This triad represents life, death, and the potential each of us holds in making a positive impact on this world. Some choose to embrace it, others run from it, and still others spend an entire lifetime being inert and indecisive for fear of making a mistake or an incorrect choice, when in truth, there are no right or wrong answers. The only failure is not making a choice at all. Simba could have lived his entire life in the jungle, happy and carefree alongside his surrogate family, Timon and Pumbaa; and yet, by doing so, he would never achieve the purpose he was brought into this world to fulfill.
As a young cub, Simba thrilled at the thought of being king, but the pitfalls of life caused him to forget. We all have gifts to share. Sometimes we just need a gentle whack on the side of the head to remember we too can make a difference.
People should walk away from The Lion King with a renewed sense of self-worth. We are the only ones responsible for the choices we make in life—and it's never too late to change.
So ends today's philosophy lesson.
In animation, the artist contributes as much to the acting ability of the character as the voice talent. Mark Henn and Jonathan Taylor Thomas combine to give Young Simba a strong dose of naïve courage and indestructibility that gives way to an overwhelming sense of guilt and remorse, while Ruben Aquino and Matthew Broderick follow the through-line to its natural conclusion of internal conflict and explosive resolve. The transformation is fluid, seamless, and without question. Michael Surrey and Nathan Lane, along with Tony Bancroft and Ernie Sabella, give the film its heart and comedic relief, effectively balancing the intense drama that bookends the picture. While these three are the focus of the film, we must also give credit to the exceptional work turned in by James Baxter and Robert Guillaume as Rafiki, the wise simian sage; Ellen Woodbury and Rowan Atkinson as the kingdom's ever-watchful grand vizier Zazu; Tony Fucile and James Earl Jones as the majestic and benevolent Mufasa; and the magnificent pairing of Andreas Deja and Jeremy Irons who practically steal the film with their insidious Richard III portrayal of Scar. It's unfortunate that AMPAAS does not evaluate these types of performances for Oscar, since several of them were certainly worthy of consideration.
Presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, Disney has outdone themselves once again with another sparkling, Platinum Edition transfer. While not as awe inspiring as the restoration done on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition, this ten-year-old film, enhanced by today's digital technology, looks brand new. The colors and textures are richer and more clearly defined, evoking a more encompassing jungle, foreboding elephant graveyard, and desolate Pridelands. Nowhere are the colors more vibrant than the "Pink Elephants on Parade" inspired Can't Wait to be King sequence. In contrast, the blacks are most powerful in the heartfelt discussions between Mufasa and Simba during Under the Stars and He Lives in You.
Enhanced by the glorious operatic score of composer Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina, and the incomparable Lebo M, the team of Elton John and Tim Rice redefined the Disney musical. Gone are the cheesy kids tunes such as Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, replaced with compelling and timeless lyrical tales of life, love, and loss. As Howard Ashman and Alan Menken elevated Disney Feature Animation to filmmaking respectability with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, Rice and Sir Elton have kicked up the art form's level of significance ten-fold. The Dolby 5.1 Enhanced Mix proves this out in resplendent fashion, adding depth and breadth to an already robust world. From the echoes in Scar's cave to the hum of jungle insects, your room will be instantly transformed.
True to previously defined Platinum Edition standards, this two-disc collection is bursting with bonus materials. Interestingly enough, there is equal parts entertainment for the kids and enlightenment for the adults.
As we look out over a beautiful and active CGI Pridelands, Zazu enlightens us on the many opportunities that await.
• Two Versions of the Film
• The Making of Morning Report
• Personality Profile Game
• Timon's Grab-a-Grub Game
• Pumbaa's Sound Sensations
• Deleted Scenes
• "Circle of Life" Music Video
• The Making of the Music Video
• Sing Along Track
Jeremy Irons introduces viewers to a unique worldwide, multi-path adventure that awaits them. You have the option of taking self-guided tours through features separated into each of the six major continents or partake in one of the six safaris that have been prepared for you. Utilizing a near-abusive approach to content reuse, similar to the one used on Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition, this release makes it an art form.
• Safari: Story (12 min)
• Story Origins
• Safari: Film (17 min)
• Safari: Stage (16 min)
• Musical Origins
• Safari: Music (24 min)
• Music Inspiration
• Safari: Animals (18 min)
• Virtual Safari
With respect to the "Continents," the individual features have been grouped according to their geographic influences on the film. For instance, The Lion King 1 1/2 was developed by Disney's Australian animation team. Thus, the trailer for the new film can be found under Continent: Australia. Elton John and Tim Rice are from England. Thus, "Landmark Songwriting" can by found under Continent: Europe. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is located at Walt Disney World in Florida. Thus, "Animal Kingdom Lodge" can be found under Continent: North America > Orlando, FL. Make sense? Again, there is a tremendous amount of redundancy here. My guess is people will intuit where to find specific items differently, hence the multiple locations. While the bonus featurettes and galleries are extremely well assembled, finding and cycling through them can become somewhat cumbersome. Consider it a quest.
• Continent: Asia
• Leaps of Fantasy
• Continent: Africa
• Music: African Influence
• Continent: Australia
• The Lion King 1 1/2 Trailer
• Continent: Europe
• Landmark Songwriting
• Continent: North America: Burbank, CA
• Disney & Animals
• Continent: North America: Orlando, FL
• Animal Kingdom Park
• Continent: North America: New York, NY
• Musical Origins
• Continent: North America: Glendale, CA
• Production Design
• Continent: South America
• Multi-Language Reel
There are a handful of films that have defined actors and studios for generations. The Lion King stands shoulder to shoulder with Snow White, Fantasia, and Sleeping Beauty in showcasing the talent and range of the Disney Studios. Walt would have been proud. Disney fanatic or not, this is one film that should hold a special place in any DVD collection.
Disney proves the power of the DVD medium with yet another inspired presentation. This court thanks everyone involved in the production of The Lion King for their creativity and dedication. Your passions are evident in each and every frame of this film and will be cherished always. Court is adjourned.
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