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Everyone knows the story of The Lion King, right? Divorce it from the ballyhoo meets Broadway of the national touring company performances currently carousing around your local convention center/playhouse and surround your jaded joy division with this triumphant cartoon tale of one feline's battle over his fear of ferocity. All the precious pieces are still there: Simba and his CNN-pitching pappy Mufasa hanging out at the big old rock in the veldt. Mean Ole' Unkie Scar with his clipped as a kipper accent and bastion of ethnically questionable hyenas, plotting Nazi-istic campaigns of conquest. The first recorded gay marriage between a meerkat and a hogwart (or visa versa). That overriding faux African philosophy about having "no worries." The fart jokes. The non-stop barrage of Elton meets Evita style songs by Sir John and his lyrically lame Lieutenant Rice. It's all the same, one of the popular pinnacles in the Mouse master's reclamation of the animation throne. Over the years since its initial foray into the midbrain of the nation's youth and youth minders, Eisner's Empire has produced various and sundry permutations on this wholesome Lion's jungle jive to effectively maintain high title recognition quotients. There have been direct to video sequels, video games, toys, TV shows, and numerous product tie-ins.
And now we have been blessed with the latest projectile in the wee war to win that greatest of disposable income battles, the DVD domination derby. Direct from your well-worn VHS copy and aiming specifically for your child's heart comes Disney's The Lion King: Read-Along DVD. While it is really nothing more than one of those old cassette and nine page paperback children's book combos that labeled themselves "educational" in the mid-1970s, our Rodent Rulers have high-teched the tushee out of this literacy by rote ideal and turned it into a fully functional, brightly colored and computer configured, interactive, multi-angled and languaged…digital cassette and nine page paperback children's book combo. The best way to approach this, or any other Disney product nowadays, is to divide the dissection into two parts—one aimed at the kiddies and the other aimed at their pseudo-sensible parents. It's only fair when one is not the intended target audience (but is the intended purchasing demographic) for this questionable franchise flotsam to cut its carefully controlled crassness a little slack. So…
Kids—Rejoice and salivate! (Just not in that order.) Your omnipresent and omniscient friend's over at Uncle Walt's wonder factory have devised yet another way you can derive seemingly hour of ersatz enjoyment out of the story of a lion and his dead dad. You get all the fun of seeing the movie without actually having to witness any actual animation. You'll hear the original character voices (or a close, virtually non-lawsuit producing facsimile thereof) and hear a drone-like narrator highlight all the plot points. And you "international" children are in luck. Our diversity sensitive Disneyites have made sure that The Lion King: Read-Along DVD is offered in five inclusive and very NATO friendly (well, mostly NATO friendly languages). And just when you think you've had enough, you can click over to the special features and sees ads…sorry, "special presentations…".of other fun DVD and video titles. You can learn how to say "gazelle" in German. Perhaps you'll just want to croon along with your Auntie Elton as he sings you a same-sex lullaby. It's all part of the fun, games, and MPEG magic of Disney's The Lion King: Read-Along DVD.
Parents—It's time to call a scam a spade. Consider this a lesson in applied shopping sensibility, a kind of Chaotic Commercialism Consumer Reports. This is about the sixth permutation of this Disney animated classic to come out of the Madhouse of Mouse since the film first took the moviegoer imagination by stormtrooper. Constantly reinventing the same thing is a registered WDW corporate secret. And you know you will have to buy it. Your rugrats will crawl about like crazed crabs barking out their unquenchable thirst for "completing the circle of life" until you do. And then they will play it over and over again, non-stop like a broken TM mantra until you've determined that "Hakuna Matata" stands for "advanced Chinese warble torture." Disney is, for lack of a more fitting analogy, the Borg of the baby boomer brood buyer. You will see this cheap, phony pitch for a parent's pennies as the hollow heartless time waster and shelf stuffer that it is, and then sigh as you realize that because of the awesome technological and marketing forces at work in the manic Magic Kingdom, resistance is futile. Heck, it's The Lion King after all. It even made your bleary eyes blush and your coffee-stained mouth smile. What choice do you honestly have?
Well, to tell you the truth, not much. This is really just harmless cross promotion, an advanced prep piece for the release, this fall, of the full title on DVD. You could be wasting your money on worse things, like lottery tickets or Pilates. And thanks to the inclusion of Elton's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" video, this DVD is actually about 10% entertaining. The image is good and it should be, since this is not the transfer from some vaulted print but an original digital creation from the source material. The sound is particularly effective. There are nice jungle noises and the calming Lite FM radio host voiceover is clear and crisp. Even the song sections are hopped up on stereophonic goofballs. The multi-language subtitles are easy to read and properly "engorged" with boldface importance as the yarn spinner speaks and says them. Of the included extras, only the game offers something inventive and the vocabulary anything educational. But the rest of this miserable menagerie is overblown, bombastic ads for every other Disney video title being released in the foreseeable future, all of them seemingly hack sequels. One has to wonder if the advertising wizard who discovered that your average DVD buyer would mindlessly click onto idiotic trailers as long as they were labeled "special features" is currently sitting in his skyscraper corner office laughing. Or buried up to his neck in an Amazon fire ant mound, weeping. Disney's The Lion King: Read-Along DVD may produce some level of hakuna matata. But it definitely specializes in "cartuna mutato" which roughly translates as "limited entertainment value."
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