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The Lion King 1 ˝ DVD Review

The Lion King 1 1/2
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Bradley Raymond

Voice Cast: Nathan Lane (Timon), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba), Julie Kavner (Timon's Ma), Jerry Stiller (Uncle Max), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki), Moira Kelly (Nala), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Banzai), Jim Cummings (Ed)

Songs: "Digga Tunna", "That's All I Need", "Hakuna Matata", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Theme", "Grazing in the Grass"

Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: G
1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), DTS 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned; THX-Certified

Release Date: February 10, 2004
Two Single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Dual Amaray Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

 
Review by Jack Seiley

Upon first hearing of plans for yet another sequel to The Lion King, many were skeptical and unreceptive, for it appeared that Disney was just trying to milk the success of their blockbuster film for all it was worth. Once details about the project started to reveal themselves, several warmed up to the idea, thinking that it had the potential to be one of the better direct-to-video films. I was one of those people, and The Lion King 1 ˝ met my expectations as a creative, worthy follow up to the first movie.

The concept of the film might remind some of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as it involves the characters Timon and Pumbaa sitting in a theater, watching their version of what happened before and during the events of The Lion King. The story begins with an introduction to a meerkat colony, in which Timon is tired of a life of constant tunnel-digging and running from hyenas. His care-free nature seems to ruin everything, so he finally decides to leave his family and go find “hakuna matata”. Along the way, he makes a fateful meeting with a warthog named Pumbaa, who joins with him on his search. Together, they stumble into several locations and scenes from the first film, until they find a perfect spot to settle: a colorful jungle close to where they find the lion cub named Simba. The rest of film further explores the relationships of the characters, spoofs famous scenes, and brings Timon’s character full circle till he finds his own place in the circle of life.

The movie does fall into some familiar pitfalls reminiscent of other direct-to-video projects in the past. Expectedly, it’s fluffier than the original and much less majestic. The songs are completely forgettable. I was struck during one scene, when a character does something drastic for such a thin motive (I won’t reveal it, as its potential spoiler).

However, because of how quality it is in most other instances, it’s easy to overlook its shortcomings. The animation closely matches that of its predecessor with great detail. The jokes are made to appeal to all types, with references to pop-culture & famous movies (the funniest being a poke at The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and some bodily function jokes thrown in for good measure. The score is surprisingly well-done too. The highlight for me: Timon and Pumbaa are given more background; they develop into somewhat deeper characters than just sources of comedy relief. The movie is a highly entertaining one, with a lot of effort put into it in general.

Therefore, The Lion King 1 ˝ deserves its place as the first direct-to-video project to ever receive a 2-Disc Set. Like other sets recently released by Disney, it comes with a cardboard slipcover that opens like a book to reveal the different features of the DVD. Underneath the slipcover, the discs are held in an amaray case with a flapper, along with a coupon booklet for other Disney DVDs, an advertisement for a Disney credit card (lets face it folks – this is the highlight of the set), and an 8-page insert that describes the inspirations of The Lion King series, lays out the bonus materials, posts a chapter listing, and heralds the upcoming Special Edition release of The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.

Disc 1: The Feature & Bonus Materials

The animated menu depicts the scurrying meerkats from the film digging across the pride lands, as the options for the DVD are presented to the viewer.

The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 window-boxed in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. It looks stunning, with absolutely no defects, looking about as crisp, clear, and colorful as possible. All the beautiful artwork of the film is represented in great detail. As far as I’m concerned, it matches the highly-praised transfer of the first film.

When it comes to sound, it is equally satisfying, giving the option of either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or DTS 5.1 (ironic, considering The Lion King only got a Dolby track). I listened to the Dolby track, and was extremely pleased. The surround is excellent, immersing the viewer in the many sounds of Africa, while providing considerable kick in the subwoofer. The soundtrack isn’t as lively or lush as the first movie’s, but it is represented superbly.

“Hidden Mickey Hunt” is an interactive feature that helps one find all the images of Mickey’s head that have been hidden throughout The Lion King 1 ˝ by the artists. Available while watching the film, an indicator in the top, right hand corner of the screen lets you know when a “hidden mickey” is about to appear. When you find it, press the “enter” button in the DVD remote control. In this way, it records how many you have found. There are 20 to look for, and makes for a fun thing to do after seeing the film for the first time. I personally haven’t tried this out yet, but next time I will.

Next up are 7 Deleted Scenes (11:44) - “Opening Concept #1” (Rafiki introduces the movie), “Opening Concept #2” (Timon & Pumbaa set up the movie from Rafiki’s tree), “Old Fearless Buzz” (A song about a legendary meerkat), “Timon Talks to Dad” (Version of a scene from the final film, with Timon’s father in place of his mother), “Timon, Dad, and Mom” (Timon’s family visits Pride Rock), “Intro to ‘Scurry, Scratch, and Sniff’” (alternate version of a scene in the final film), and “Timon and Pumbaa Look for an Oasis” (the two friends stumble into Mufasa). All are in story-reel format, nicely introduced by director Bradley Raymond and producer George Mendoza, explaining why each segment was cut.

The standard “Sneak Peeks” are included, but with a new feature – instead of having to select each trailer individually like on previous DVDs, the option is now given to “Play All”. Previews are for: the highly anticipated Aladdin: Special Edition, the theatrical release of Home on the Range, the DVD release of Brother Bear, the direct-to-video feature The Three Musketeers, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride – Special Edition, Mulan II, The Lion King 1 ˝ Game Boy Advanced Game, Walt Disney World, ToonTown Online Game, and Toon Disney channel.

A pointless “Disc 2 Sneak Peek” (00:42) is the last extra here, targeting kids and urging them to pop in the second disc, making it look like the Disc 2 is jam-packed. In truth, of all the discs reserved for extras only, I must say that this is the skimpiest one I’ve ever seen.

Disc 2: Bonus Materials

The menu begins just like Disc 1’s, only this time, Timon and Pumbaa are watching it on a big screen – just like the film. There are two areas to choose from: Featurettes and Games & Activities.

Featurettes

“Timon: Behind the Legend” (4:03) is a spoof on A&E’s programming with Peter Graves himself. It starts off narrating Timon’s life as a baby, featuring cute interviews with characters from the movie. It doesn’t go much farther than that, as Peter decides that Timon is not legendary, and walks off the set, bringing it all to a sudden ending. It would have been better if it had lasted closer to 10 minutes. It’s hard to really be entertained by something so brief.

“Before the Beginning: The Making of The Lion King 1 ˝” (15:00) is a skim over the production of the movie. It starts off with the director and the producer watching the feature, just like Timon and Pumbaa in the film. They then opt to introduce us to all the talents behind the direct-to-video project, including voice talents like Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, and several animators with cool Aussie accents (the movie was made in Australia – where people apparently like to dangle babies over crocodiles . . . just kidding). Each contributor talks about their specific job on the picture, and all are very tongue-in-cheek. It doesn’t really give a lot of info as to how they came up with the story or new characters, which is disappointing. But I actually enjoyed watching this more than anything on The Lion King’s Platinum Edition, as it’s actually a complete documentary.

Raven’s “Grazing in the Grass” music video (3:11) is boring to watch, with low production values and bland choreography. It’s the typical Disney music video of today, with a driving pop beat, and an unspectacular song. I only watched it because I was doing this review - I’m getting sick and tired of Raven (she is in fact a girl, not a Corvus corax, the large bird with a black plumage).

Games & Activites

“Timon & Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari 1.5” is the promised follow-up to the virtual safari on The Lion King’s DVD. Although it’s called a safari, its actually presented as a ride that Timon built in the middle of the savanna. It explicitly spoofs several of the rides from Disneyland, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, “It’s a Small World”, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and the Matterhorn. I found this to be much more fun than the first virtual safari. I recommend it, even for those who normally don’t like this type of stuff.

“Who Wants to Be King of the Jungle?” is obviously a take on the popular game show, hosted by its actual host, Meredith Vieira. It’s format is nearly identical to the show, with 3 life-lines and ten levels, asking questions dealing with all 3 Lion King films. As long as the player is familiar with all 3 films, he or she should have no problem completing this. I haven’t seen The Lion King II in years, so failed to win even after three tries, but I still found it to be one of the most engaging DVD games I’ve ever played.

“Find the Face” requires the player to identify silhouettes of various Disney characters. I think kids and adults alike will find it extremely easy, yet it’s an amusing feature that ends our tour of the second disc.

Closing Thoughts

Everything here probably could have been reduced to one disc. There are no meaty features to be found, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up. The Lion King 1 ˝ is the best direct-to-video movie in years. Fans of all ages should be entertained by it, and may end up being surprised at how well done it is.

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