The Lion King on Blu Ray captures one of Disney’s best films in its original, theatrical glory.
NOTE: This review is for the Two-Disc Diamond Edition, which is a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.
Assuming that most of you have already seen this modern classic, I’ll keep this section of my review brief. Simply put, The Lion King is one of the best animated films ever made, and in my opinion this is Disney’s best film (I don’t care what anyone says, Snow White sort of sucks in comparison). It can be said that The Lion King is like a Shakespearean Disney epic: after all, it has been reported that direct inspiration for the film came from Hamlet. For that reason, The Lion King is surprisingly dramatic and emotional. So much so that this is arguably one of the most compelling Disney movies ever made. Along with boasting an amazing story that plays on classic literature by also humanizing anthropomorphic animal characters, The Lion King is very, very entertaining. Timon and Pumbaa provided excellent comic relief in the second half of the film, while exciting and epic set pieces make up the first half, and the final act of the film ends with a fun and climatic fight between Simba and his murderous uncle. The musical numbers that resulted as a collaboration between Elton John and Hans Zimmer are breathtaking (it’s no wonder both of them received Oscars for their work on the film), and the dialogue is often witty and hilarious. In summation, The Lion King is the epitome of “talking films,” because it boasts an incredibly powerful story, and oftentimes it can be easy to forget that the characters are animals due to their very human personalities. And yes,this Blu-ray set consists of the original theatrical version (albeit with a couple of CGI changes, such as in the Mufasa ghost scene, a couple of images were removed), not the lame extended cut with the “Morning Report” scene!
Most of you are probably interested in this review to see how the audio and video of The Lion King fares in high-definition, and let me tell you, it is absolutely astounding how well Disney treated its animated classic. Although a couple of scenes of the film have some blemishes, The Lion King has never looked this good on screen before. Disney’s digitally-restored HD transfer can be summed as up as one of the best-looking animated films in the entire catalog of Blu-ray discs, presenting reference quality picture quality. This version ofThe Lion King, when viewed on a full HD (1080p) screen, is literally like an animated painting moving right before your very eyes. You can spot almost every single stroke of a paintbrush and pencil that allowed The Lion King’s characters to eventually come to life, and colors dazzingly jump off the screen in every single scene (yes, even in the dark ones). The Blu-ray version of The Lion King harbors an absolutely spotless transfer, providing for the most immersive experience you will ever have while watching this film. From the very opening scene when the sun rises over the horizon, to the colorful melody of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, the wildebeest stampede, and the final battle between the lions and the hyenas, The Lion King is simply a stunner from start to finish in this HD restoration of a 17-year-old classic. You may rest assured that this classic film will not disappoint you as far as video is concerned. In addition to that, the audio tracks of The Lion King on Blu-ray are no less amazing. Hearing the low hum of the voice of Darth Vader on a subwoofer? Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Just like Mufasa and his son Simba, the 7.1 audio remixes (including a shockingly powerful DTS-HD Master Audio mix) in this version of the film roar on a surround sound. This is one case in which an animated film’s soundtrack truly messes with my emotion because The Lion King is a film that channels its powerful emotions not only through its story, but also through music and sound. Disney has been able to provide a feeling of immersion into the world of their beloved classic by making sure that every single audio effect that was included in the theatrical release has made it over into this release, and that shows. Also, Hans Zimmer and Elton John’s Oscar-winning music sounds better than it ever has before. From all of these improvements Disney has made to the A/V presentation of The Lion King, one thing is for certain: The Lion King is no longer a film, but rather, an experience.
The Lion King: 2-Disc Diamond Edition includes the following special features on the Blu-ray disc (unless otherwise noted that they’re included on the DVD as well):
- The Lion King with Audio Commentary (HD, 88 minutes): This audio commentary that compliments the film was produced by co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, along with producer Don Hahn.
- Sneak Peeks (HD): Each disc includes trailers for Disney Studio All Access, Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray re-release), The Muppets, the home media release of Cars 2, Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games, Disney Movie Rewards, The Lion King musical, Disney Parks, the Blu-ray releases of The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and The Lion King 1½, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, the home media release of African Acts, the Blu-ray release of Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Treasure Buddies, Secret of the Wings, Cinderella: Diamond Edition (the Blu-ray release).
- Disney Second Screen: This feature is an interactive movie-watching experience that provides viewers with games, concept art, video clips and other features on either an iPad or computer as The Lion King is playing on your HDTV.
- Bloopers & Outtakes (HD, 3:44): A quick, animated gag reel that shows some “takes” of the film going wrong.
- Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition
-Pride of the Lion King (HD, 38:06): This is a very interesting featurette that serves as a retrospective for the development, release, and long-lasting success/influence of both the theatrical and Broadway renditions of The Lion King, with interviews of the directors along with some members of the cast, crew, and former Disney executives.
-The Lion King: A Memoir – Don Hahn (HD, 19:40): Another retrospective outlook of the development of The Lion Kingwhich is presented as a memoir of Don Hahn, the producer of the film. This feature is also included on the DVD copy included in the package.
-Deleted and Alternate Scenes (HD, 14:33): All five of the “deleted” scenes are more or less alternate or extended versions of certain parts of The Lion King’s final cut, with introductions given by co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.
-#1: Zazu Flatters Mufasa
-#2: “King of the Wild”
-#3: Scar Wants Nala As His Queen
-#4: Simba And Nala Reunited
-#5: Zazu Flatters Scar
- Music & More
-The Lion King: Sing Along Mode (HD, 88 minutes): In traditional Disney fashion for their animated musicals, The Lion King can be played in Sing Along Mode, which has lyrics shown on-screen when musical numbers come up during the film’s duration.
-The Morning Report: Extended Scene (HD, 2:30): When the Platinum DVD Edition of The Lion King was released from the Disney Vault in 2003, Walt Disney Animation Studios altered the scene in which Simba has a pouncing lesson; in this short sequence, the subtle humor of the original scene (the original scene is in the Blu-ray edition) is replaced by music and slight alterations to the script.
- Interactive Blu-ray Gallery (HD): This is basically an interactive art gallery of various pieces of art that were created by the animators as the developed The Lion King. This feature includes hundreds of HD-rendered images that are categorized into four stages of art and story development: Character Design, Visual Development, Storyboards, along with Layouts and Backgrounds.
- Disney’s Virtual Vault (HD): Disney’s Virtual Vault is essentially an assortment of the Disney BD-Live Network features that are included with The Lion King.
- DVD Copy of The Lion King (this version will be available separately in its own packaging in mid-November)
Although Disney usually does an amazing job at providing stunning HD transfers and ear-pounding audio mixes, lately the producers of the Disney home media releases have dropped the ball as far as special features are considered. That is not the case for The Lion King: Diamond Edition, though. Disney executives must have realized that people have been waiting a very long time for this Blu-ray release, so Disney Animation Studios took some extra care to include content that would prove pleasing to their fans instead of children with short attention spans. Although the deleted scenes and the brief blooper reel are slightly disappointing (they were entertaining, but only slightly so for me), The Lion King packs an impressive amount of content on one Blu-ray disc. I was not able to test out either Disney’s Virtual Vault nor Disney Second Screen for this review, but even so, I am already aware that a lot of fan-pleasing content is promised due to what I have researched online. The multiple featurettes, viewing modes, and other content are worth checking out as well.
The Lion King is the king of hand-drawn animated films (especially since it is the highest-grossing 2D animated film of all-time), and now it is one of the rightful rulers of the Disney Blu-ray Kingdom (if there even is such a thing). Some more quality extras could have provided for an absolutely perfect Blu-ray re-issuing for this gem of the Disney Renaissance, but even so, 8 years was well worth the wait for The Lion King’s release from the Disney Vault. Boasting a spotless high-definition transfer, heart-pounding audio, and an impressive bevy of extras, this is an exceptional Blu-ray release. It also helps that The Lion King (the original release is included, thankfully) is one of the greatest movies ever made, too. The king has truly returned.
Jay Bakker, Editor-in-Chief, Metal Arcade
The Lion King is undoubtedly one of the best Disney films ever released. It holds a special place in my heart, and no other Disney film has grabbed me emotionally like it since. The director and animators did such a phenomenal job at infusing humanity into these characters and emotion into the story that you can’t help but care about them. I tried buying the DVD version on Amazon a few years back and the price had skyrocketed to over $300, so I was definitely excited to hear that Disney was finally releasing The Lion King on Blu Ray. While watching it, I was amazed at the picture quality. Lines were sharp, colors were incredibly vibrant, and as Zachary said, the whole thing just looks like a moving painting. The only times I had watched this movie since the theater in 1994 was on VHS and on TV. I had forgotten how beautiful this movie truly looks, and this Blu Ray transfer does an outstanding job at highlighting the artists’ work. If you only pick up one Disney release this year, make sure it’s The Lion King.