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The Lion King: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review - Page 2

The Lion King (1994) movie poster The Lion King

Theatrical Release: June 15, 1994 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff / Writers: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba), Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Jeremy Irons (Scar), Moira Kelly (Adult Nala), Niketa Calame (Young Nala), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Nathan Lane (Timon), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki), Madge Sinclair (Sarabi), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Banzai), Jim Cummings (Ed), Zoe Leader (Sarafina)

Songs: "Circle of Life", "I Just Can't Wait to be King", "Be Prepared", "Hakuna Matata", "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"

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Previous: Original 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD Platinum Edition DVD Collector's Gift Set DVD Trilogy Movie Collection

A Don Hahn quote on Africa makes for one of many fun facts of the Disney Second Screen experience. Drawings depict Simba and Nala at different ages in this piece of art from Disney Second Screen. Disney Second Screen's Scene Scrambler slide puzzles offer some fun.

BONUS FEATURES

As the title that led me to take DVD reviewing seriously, I vividly recall my disappointments over The Lion King's Platinum Edition DVD extras. They were poorly and repetitively arranged, overly concerned with the Broadway musical, and lacking substance, especially compared to the exhaustive supplements put together by Platinum predecessors Snow White and Beauty and the Beast.
At a time when the film is being re-established as the crown jewel of Disney's beloved canon, this Diamond Edition has an obligation to do right by the film and its countless supporters. That it requires just one Blu-ray disc, as opposed to the two used on Snow and Beast, is the first indication that it does not fulfill that obligation.

First up, choosing "Play Movie" prompts you to decide whether you really mean "Play Movie" or play movie with one of three value-adding modes activated.

Top-billed of those is "Disney Second Screen", which is explained in a Lion King-specific 42-second video overview. With this enabled, you are can watch the movie while a nearby iPad or computer displays artwork and other materials pertaining to what part of the movie you're seeing. The Second Screen website didn't seem to want to give me anything to correspond with the advancing counter appearing on the corner of the screen, so I turned to the free 548.8 MB app from iTunes, which took me seven minutes to download, only to discover that it is useless without an iPad.

After a few failed attempts, I was eventually able to get Second Screen to work on my computer using my BD-ROM drive. More like First Screen! It managed to sync up the Flash player pop-up and the movie, displaying fun facts, corresponding concept art (some of which can be expanded in mini-galleries), the occasional short behind-the-scenes video clip, the original September 1992 story outline, and little games and activities (slide puzzles, flipbooks, drawing/tracing/coloring exercises, etc.). The content is very good, but it would have been more readily enjoyed as a simple picture-in-picture presentation, with the mini-games separate.

Sing-Along Mode, or as the case calls it "Disney Sing-Along Mode", simply displays plain italicized white subtitles displaying the lyrics over the musical numbers. A cool feature, but you should already know all the words, except for the Swahili chants, which seeing on screen only hinders your mind's phonetic rendering of. In a nice touch, even the non-original songs ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight", "It's a Small World", etc.) get the treatment. The feature lacks the ability to produce what some DVDs' equivalent Song Selection feature offered: a short, all-musical version of the film.

The last playback mode is an audio commentary by producer Don Hahn and directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. This is the same track provided on the film's laserdisc and DVD. A retrospective new commentary from this trio would be welcomed, but it's neat to gather their thoughts from shortly after release. They talk about changes underwent (dropped songs and such), voice cast experiences, inspirations (from Leni Riefenstahl to David Lean), and animator contributions. It's both informative and entertaining. This apparently can't be paired with the Second Screen, as logical as that would have been.

The Lion King Bloopers & Outtakes seem to have fun with voice actor sessions, animating Mufasa to James Earl Jones's warm-up exercises. A trio of Broadway guys, executive/producer former Disney President Thomas Schumacher (center) and actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, gather at the famed Sardi's restaurant in the new retrospective documentary "Pride of 'The Lion King'."

Video extras begin with "Bloopers & Outtakes" (3:44, HD), which appear to animate goofs to go with real voice actor flubs. The unlikely alternative is that they are all newly invented and that the original voice actors were somehow tapped to reprise their characters, but not add some thoughts to the documentary. That could explain why there's no JTT. Pixar's humorous blooper reels are a distant enough memory for the gag to be amusing again.

Three substantial HD bonus features appear under the Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition heading.

"Pride of The Lion King" (38:06) is the disc's new retrospective documentary. It catches up with the film's makers, including Hahn, Allers, Minkoff, Peter Schneider, Thomas Schumacher, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and more than a dozen animators. The warm reunions serve up good reflections and revelations, such as Katzenberg's desired use of "Stayin' Alive", Tim Rice's near-collaboration with ABBA, and Nathan Lane's nationwide promotional tour. There is some good archival footage of voice actor readings and public appearances. A little too much attention is paid to the stage musical, whose director Julie Taymor is interviewed. Still, on the whole, this is a solid look back 17 years.

Directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers and producer Don Hahn listen to songs in production footage used in Hahn's memoir featurette. Picture them like this as you listen to their audio commentary from the '90s. Scar wants to make Nala his queen in this deleted song/scene.

"The Lion King: A Memoir - Don Hahn" (19:30) takes the approach of Hahn's excellent recent documentary on this period, Waking Sleeping Beauty, setting new interview audio over production footage, photos, and artwork, plus some interviews from release. This provides a more candid reflection on the film's making, recalling its origins as King of the Jungle, to be directed by Allers and Oliver & Company's George Scribner (a personnel change acknowledged!). An overview of its development touches on other topics including the crew's African research trip, in-studio lion observations, an earthquake, and revisions.

The section concludes with an assembly of five never-before-seen (?) Deleted & Alternate scenes (14:33) funnily introduced by directors Allers and Minkoff. The scenes are presented in old storyboard reel and pencil animation form with footage from the film setting up where they'd fit. The sequences provide an uncharacteristic joke and song from Mufasa, two Zazu-Scar exchanges (one leading into what became Broadway's "The Madness of King Scar" and then reprising "Be Prepared"), and an alternate version of Simba and Nala's reunion. The DVD's deleted and abandoned scenes are not included here.

Simba and Zazu's song "The Morning Report" is viewable on its own, but not within the movie it was added to. Visual Development features the most stylized and evocative of the gallerys' artwork.

Music & More holds just two items: the Sing-Along mode and the aforementioned "The Morning Report" (2:30). The musical sequence, animated for the movie's 2003 DVD release, entails extension and some slight replacement of existing moments. Bonus feature designation befits it, though since it is in HD, they might as well have given the option to have it inserted into the film. I doubt many people like it or care enough to mind.

An Interactive Art Gallery is divided into four sections: Character Design (165 stills), Visual Development (115), Storyboards (84), and Layouts and Backgrounds (50). The content is great, especially the first two folders. Navigation is fast, smooth, and initially accompanied by "Hakuna Matata" instrumentals (which you can easily re-activate, as you'll have to if you want it to continue). Anything that Blu-ray galleries can offer is available here, allowing you to rate images, find them by keyword, designate favorites, choose between flow and thumbnail views, and have the gallery page through itself at one of three speeds. Though bordering on overwhelming, the technology makes huge gains over DVD galleries.

Producer Don Hahn discusses the making of "The Morning Report" in a DVD short now a chore to stream via Disney's Virtual Vault. Elton John's "Circle of Life" is the only one of the previous DVD's four music videos to make it here and its accessibility is dependent on the Virtual Vault's temperament. Of all the available Timon and Pumbaa shorts, the Blu-ray's producers limit you to their Blu-ray 3D sales pitch.

Disney's Virtual Vault utilizes your BD-Live connection to provide access to bonus features not ported over from the original DVD. For me, it led to a black screen that froze my player. Three times. On my computer, it usually told me I needed an Internet connection, but once acknowledged that I have one and finally worked. Available for stream here: "The Making of 'The Morning Report'" (3:09) on the re-inserted song,
three additional deleted scenes with Don Hahn intros (0:50, 2:24, 1:44), a "Circle of Life" storyboard-to-film split-screen Comparison (3:59), two early concept reels (2:56, 3:59), and the demo for abandoned "Hakuna Matata" precursor "Warthog Rhapsody" with Hahn intro (4:17).

Placed among those shorts are abridged versions of the sometimes already abbreviated presentation of four of the old DVD's five thematic sections. From Musical Journey and dealing with the film's music come "Musical Inspiration" (3:49), "Landmark Songwriting" (3:13), "Orchestral Color" (4:23), "Scoring Emotion" (2:58), "Music: African Influence" (3:48), "Full Circle" (1:43), and Elton John's "Circle of Life" music video (4:57). Stage Journey on the Broadway musical contains "Musical Origins" (4:00), "Screen to Stage" 3:41), "Musical Texture" (3:26), "Setting the Stage" (2:29), and "Leaps of Fantasy" (3:46). The Film Journey consists of "Origins" (5:54), "Production Research Trip" (2:21), "Art: African Influences" (4:02), "Reflections" (5:10), "Storyboard Process" (1:55); "Character Design" videos for "Mufasa" (0:51), "Simba" (1:53), "Scar" (2:39), "Rafiki" (1:09), "Timon & Pumbaa" (1:51), "Zazu" (1:15), and "Hyenas" (1:21); and "Computer Animation" (4:26). And from Story Journey, we get "Story Origins" (4:36), "Timeless Themes" (3:57), and "The Story Comes to Life" (3:13).

In theory, Virtual Vault is a compromise between excluding old stuff and sacrificing disc space for it, but standard definition video does not take up much space (the BD-50 is 8 GB under capacity, rendering it a non-issue) and who wouldn't have preferred another disc (or even just Disc 2 of the old DVD if laziness was an issue) over relying on unpredictable and likely finite streams? The videos didn't properly display unless I switched to fullscreen first (by default, they play in a small window from the Virtual Vault menu), navigating the menu is a pain, half the time I couldn't get there at all, the section froze once, and the background disappeared another time. Furthermore, is anyone okay with the word "buffering"? How about rewinding/fast-forwarding in 30-second increments?

The last three listings aren't anything special. "Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon and Pumbaa" (4:23) is the duo's short promoting the newest home video technology; good for a viewing, but you're probably already encountered it elsewhere. There's also the standard digital copy explanation and "Info" (mis)leads to standard legal disclaimers.

If you found the Blu-ray's contents underwhelming, just wait until you find out what's on the DVD: "The Lion King: A Memoir - Don Hahn." That's it, unless you count the Blu-ray 3D and Disneyfile promos (and you shouldn't). Not the commentary, not the deleted scenes, not the new documentary, not "The Morning Report", and not even the sing-along mode. This is Disney's clearest message yet that they have no interest in satisfying customers still collecting DVDs. Shockingly, the DVD sold on its own in November (boasting nicer cover art) is apparently just this one disc as well, making it Disney's lamest DVD for a top-tier animated classic since their 2000 Gold Classic Collection blitz. The studio has long been heading in this direction, but it's still a jaw-dropper to see it done on their all-time biggest seller. It seems silly for the studio to just give up on the format that still widely outsells Blu-ray, especially with industry earnings and the economy increasingly challenged.

WHAT'S MISSING?

Even if you can access the Virtual Vault streams, there are a number of DVD bonus features that do not make the cut. Casualties include music videos by Elton John ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight"), Jimmy Cliff and Lebo M (the "Hakuna Matata" rendition from follow-up soundtrack Rhythm of the Pride Lands), and the now somewhat anonymous Disney Channel Circle of Stars (doing a "Circle of Life" remix); Timon & Pumbaa's fun Disney Parks-inspired interactive Virtual Safari tour; Timon's Grab-a-Grub and Pumbaa's Sound Sensations games; a personality profile quiz; a making-of on the Circle of Stars' music video; and all the animal featurettes hosted by Roy E. Disney. Among the many featurettes not included in the journey sections, a multi-language "Hakuna Matata" reel is lost, as are shorts on translating for foreign cultures and remixing the sound for IMAX and DVD. Also, a number of additional galleries also do not resurface here, holding soundtrack covers, film and musical poster art.

Things that didn't appear on the DVD but I hoped would join the movie here: the Disney Channel's 1994 half-hour making-of special hosted by Robert Guillaume (which was released on laserdisc and even VHS), original trailers (from all three theatrical releases), and promotional TV spots (imagine getting something as cool as this). Also, there are many more valuable Timon and Pumbaa cartoons that would have been more than welcome here, including their 1995 theatrical short Stand by Me, their Safety Smart cartoons of more recent years advocating safety, and their 1995-99 TV series that has been sampled on DVD overseas but never here. Finally, as one of the best and bestselling of its time, the tie-in video game deserves a little notice, even if it's just a "cool" montage of gameplay clips, though I know that would never happen.

The missed opportunities are all the more disappointing because there is no chance of a better edition coming anytime soon. Disney will only release a title as popular as this an event. It will probably be another eight years until a new set, assuming that Disney is still selling movies on disc then.

The Lion King's new menu screen (the DVD version of which is seen here) projects clips from the movies onto the movie's settings, from Pride Rock... ...to the Elephant Graveyard.

PREVIEWS, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray and DVD have one of the best only/main menu screens I've seen in a while. It opens with Simba's "SEX" dust blowing around to different settings, where clips play on the landscapes with score and song instrumentation excerpts befitting of the montage's tone. This continues around the locales in pleasing fashion. It's a big improvement over the DVD's well-meaning but long-winded fly-around hosted by CGI Zazu. Headings coolly emulate the the large first and last letter of the film's title design.

The two full-color discs claim opposite sides of the side-snapped standard Blu-ray case. Three inserts cover the DVD: a 6-page Disney Movie Rewards booklet, a 24-page booklet of company ads (which confirm expectations that the two sequels will get their own combo packs in 2012), and a 6-page Blu-ray Guide (whose navigational overview manages to make the Blu-ray disc at least look kind of loaded).
The case is topped by a foil-faced cardboard slipcover that embosses the controversially vertical title and select character outlines. No book-like opening or holography apply.

The Blu-ray disc does not resume or support bookmarks, something Disney needs to sort out ASAP. It does at least remember where you last left off watching the movie.

Both the Blu-ray and FastPlay-equipped DVD open with promos for Disney Studio All Access (the streaming program the company sees as a potential successor to physical media), Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition, The Muppets, Cars 2, and Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games. The discs' Sneak Peeks menu listing repeats those and follows them with ads for Disney Movie Rewards, The Lion King Broadway musical, Disney Parks, Blu-rays of The Lion King II/2: Simba's Pride and The Lion King 1, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, African Cats, Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas, Treasure Buddies, Tinker Bell's Secret of the Wings (formerly Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods), and Cinderella: Diamond Edition. In that second string, the DVD also includes spots for the DVD-only releases Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World Special Edition and Prep & Landing. I suspect if you added all these up, they run longer than the Hahn featurette.

Rafiki presents the newborn Simba in the powerful and iconic "Circle of Life" opening to the film.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My latest viewing of The Lion King further reinforces my view that this is the greatest of all animated films. It doesn't have the historical value of Walt's early productions and it hasn't had to endure nearly as much time. But in artistic, dramatic, and entertainment value,
I don't think any Disney or Pixar film soars as highly and almost no live-action film compares either.

Much like its DVD debut from eight years ago, the movie's first Blu-ray release is a mixed bag. The outstanding feature presentation is everything you hoped it could be and not greatly changed from its original release. However, the disc is sort of pitiful in the way of bonus features, paling even compared to the underwhelming Platinum Edition DVD in that regard. The Virtual Vault is an even more frustrating way to watch some of the extras than the poorly-organized former DVD, and getting that and Second Screen to even work is a challenge of trial and error. A film of this stature deserves so much more than what is offered here, but at least the new bonus features are good.

If all you care about is owning this outstanding movie with the best picture and sound available, you should be delighted by this release. If you want the set to stand as a comprehensive and worthy celebration of the film, however, you will be disappointed and definitely want to hang onto the DVD. If you don't have that, you should track it down while you can; that is the better immediate value for DVD-only households with no plans to upgrade.

Support great cinema and this site when you buy The Lion King now from Amazon.com:
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BD + DVD in DVD Case / 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD / Platinum DVD Collector's Gift Set

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Related Interviews:
Directors: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff | Producer: Don Hahn | Pumbaa's Supervising Animator: Tony Bancroft | Voice of Adult Nala: Moira Kelly

Related Reviews:
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Sequels: The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (Special Edition) The Lion King 1
New: Dumbo (70th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD) Goosebumps: Attack of the Mutant Beavis and Butt-head: Mike Judge's Most Wanted
Africa: Tarzan Cheetah The African Lion A Far Off Place | Shakespeare & Elton John: Gnomeo & Juliet
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Reviewed October 4, 2011.