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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Lion King

October 2nd, 2011

The Lion King - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack, 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Blu-ray Trilogy Box Set

The Lion King was re-released in theaters as a 3D version just over a couple weeks ago. The original plan was to run for two weeks, but be out of theaters just in time for its Blu-ray debut. It has proven to be so popular in theaters, that it will likely still be playing wide next weekend and could become one of the rare films to reach $100 million during its re-release. It is worth picking up on Blu-ray? And if so, which version is the better deal?

The Movie

The film begins with all of the animals of the African Savannah gathering around Pride Rock to witness the unveiling of the new prince, Simba, the son of King Mufasa, the King of the Animals. After the ceremony, King Mufasa goes to his brother, Scar, who missed the ceremony. Before Simba was born, Scar was the next in line for the thrown, but now, he will never be king. That is, unless something happens to Simba.

The next day King Mufasa shows Simba the kingdom, The Pride Land, which stretches everywhere the sun shines. There's one place that's in the shadows and he tells Simba never to go there. When Zazu, the King's advisor, announces that the hyenas have entered the Pride Land, Simba has to go home while Mufasa deals with the problem. Once he gets home, Scar entices him to go into the shadows, the Elephant Graveyard, which is a place only the bravest lions dare to go. This of course works on a young and impressionable lion and he heads off with Nala, a young lioness from the pride. Despite warnings from Zazu, they continue and once there they run into three hyenas, Banzai, Shenzi, and Ed. It looks bad for the lions, and Zazu, but Mufasa intervenes and saves them.

After the fight, Scar visits the hyenas and begins plotting to kill King Mufasa and Simba. The plan is to get Simba trapped in a wildebeest stampede and for Mufasa to die trying to save him. The latter part works. Mufasa dies, but Simba lives. However, Scar is there to guilt Simba for his father's death and convinces him to run away, where the hyenas will kill him. Again Simba survives, not that the hyenas tell Scar.

In the aftermath, Scar takes over the pride, and allows the hyenas to rise above the lions. In the meantime, Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa and learns the phrase, "Hakuna matata". Flash forward a few years and... we reach spoiler territory.

I'm happy to report that The Lion King is still as strong now as it was when it was first released. The film takes a very strong structure of the hero's journey and places it within the world of the African savannah and gives it a Shakespearean influence. It does an amazing job of balancing the humor and the very dark elements of the story as well. The acting is superb, while the technical quality of the animation stands up, which is impressive for a film that is nearly 20 years old. That's several lifetimes in computer terms. Finally, it has some of the best songs ever included in a Disney animated film.

It's arguably the best post-Golden Age animated film by Disney, until digital animation took over, that is.

The Extras

The extras are mostly ported over from the previous DVD releases, and these start with an audio commentary track with Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, and Don Hahn, who are the two co-directors and the producer respectively. It's an entertaining track with lots of insight given into all areas of production from initial ideas, changes in the script, casting, recording voices, animation, complicated computer animation, etc. You can also watch the movie in Sing-Along Mode. There is one alternative scene from the film. And finally there's Disney's Virtual Vault, which has numerous featurettes from the 2003 DVD. In fact, there's more than 100 minutes of extras in this section.

Extras that are new to the Blu-ray start with Second Screen mode, which is like a picture-in-picture track, but you need a tablet or similar device to use it. I would like this feature if the Blu-ray also came with a picture-in-picture track. Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition has three extras starting with a 38-minute retrospective called Pride of The Lion King. There's a 20-minute memoir for Don Hahn with featuring many interviews from the people who worked there. Finally, there are 18 minutes of deleted scenes with intros. Interactive Blu-ray Gallery, which has literally hundreds of pictures divided into four different groups. The last Blu-ray exclusive is four-minute of outtakes.

Moving onto the technical specs... This is reference level material. The level of detail is incredible, colors pop when needed, the blacks are always deep but never swallow details, etc. There are a couple minor flecks, but you have to be looking for them to spot them, so for most people its practically perfect. The audio is likewise amazing with all 7.1 surround sound speakers being given a workout. The dialogue is always clear, while there are plenty of ambient sounds, not to mention directional effects coming from all sides.

Unfortunately, I have not made the leap to 3D yet, although I am seriously thinking about it thanks to releases like this one.

Finally, we get to the price, which is $22 for the Blu-ray Combo Pack, $30 for the 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack, and $75 for the 3D Blu-ray Trilogy Box Set. Given the technical treatment and the exclusive extras, $22 for the Blu-ray is a great deal. If you've made the leap to 3D, then $30 is also a good price to pay for what you get. However, I don't think spending $45 for the two sequels is a good deal, so unless you really want the cool looking packaging, I would stick with the one of the other two releases instead.

The Verdict

Pick of the Week material. Simply put, The Lion King is Pick of the Week material, whether or not you are going for the Blu-ray Combo Pack or the 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack. The 3D Blu-ray Trilogy Box Set is a little pricey for me.


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