Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'The Lion King - 3D.'
There's something about 'The Lion King' that makes me feel like a kid again. It's one of Disney's most sweepingly epic movies. It sucks you in with its illustrious animation, and keeps you interested because of its intriguing story and fun characters. It only seems to get better with age. After revisiting it on Blu-ray I've come to the conclusion that it's simply a timeless animated feature that will continue to be loved by people the world over decade after decade.
'The Lion King' isn't without its controversy. Some say it was lifted directly from the Japanese story of 'Kimba the White Lion.' Disney insists it's their take on 'Hamlet.' Sharing, borrowing, and adapting has been commonplace in moviemaking for years. Truthfully, it doesn't matter to me one way or the other. The end product that Disney put out has enthralled audiences since its release. Not too many movies have staying power like that. In fact, it was just rereleased in theaters and handily beat out the competition for the number one spot. Seventeen years later and people are still clamoring to see this movie on the big screen. Only a very small percentage of films in history could pull off a feat like that.
We all know the story by now. Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is a king in waiting. His father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is king of the pride lands. He explains to Simba that life and nature have a natural balance. Most movies that involve animals, both predatory and prey, usually treat everyone like equals. Providing an illusion where ferocious carnivores don't actually eat any of the cute herbivores. Not 'The Lion King.' Mufasa talks openly with Simba about how they do eat other animals, but he's able to explain it in such a way that it makes the process seem more respectable and less like animal homicide. This one aspect alone makes 'The Lion King' a more grown-up, realistic animated feature. No false illusions are spread. Kids aren't taught that lions and zebras can run around in fields together without consequence. 'The Lion King' has the ability to spark discussion between kids and parents about aspects like life and death. So many animated features breeze by us with a few fart and poop jokes and that's it. 'The Lion King' is different. It's deeper. It has something else to share besides being a colorful electronic babysitter.
I don't remember when exactly I last watched 'The Lion King.' I do, however, remember wearing out our VHS copy when it first came out. Its animation was truly spectacular, and for an animation junkie like me, I was enthralled. Its songs, which I haven't listened to in their entirety for years, were to my surprise stuck firmly into my memory banks. As soon as the music started, my wife and I started singing along with them. I can go years without hearing the songs and in an instant the memories of them come flooding back. That's how memorable those musical numbers are.
I will admit that nostalgia has probably gotten the better of me during this review. Waxing hyperbolic about how much I unabashedly love 'The Lion King.' With classics such as this, it's easy to get lost in the memories. Building up the movie to something more than it is. Though my fond memories of the movie may be clouding my critical vision, I must say that 'The Lion King' isn't just a classic in my mind. I think that was proved upon its rerelease in theaters. It's a movie that will be infinitely relatable to every generation. It doesn't seem dated at all. I truly think that it will continue to be remembered as a classic film and that endless generations of kids and adults will be entertained by it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Disney Blu-ray release comes with the DVD copy and the Blu-ray copy of the movie. It comes packed in a standard Disney Blu-ray keepcase, with included slipcover.
I've got to say that Disney's 1080p presentation of 'The Lion King' is probably the best I've ever seen a hand-drawn animated feature look on Blu-ray. Yes, 'The Princess and the Frog' was immaculate, but 'The Lion King' looks that much better. Perhaps it's because of the movie's awe-inspiring scope. Whatever it is, it looks downright fantastic in every frame.
Colors are intensely vivid. They leap off the screen. I was drawn to the orange-to-red gradient on Zazu's bill. The finely shaded gradient is wonderfully colorful. The 2D animation flourishes in HD. Edges are perfectly concise and easy to discern. Lighting is carefully placed giving the animation a very 3D feel.
There isn't a speck of dirt or grime here. This is an immaculately clean transfer free from any technical flubs or mishaps that might detract from the viewer's experience. What is even more amazing is that the very early computer animation that was used during this film doesn't jump out at you. Even though the technology was still in its infancy, it's hardly noticeable here. The stampede looks natural and flows perfectly. Even with the added high definition, you'd never be able to strain your eyes and say, "Yeah, that's early CG." From start to finish, this is one of the most splendidly colorful, and demo-ready discs out there. Its 2D presentation is spectacularly amazing in every way.
The audio for 'The Lion King' comes by way of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, while the two dubs are given "Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mixes," whatever that means. This film doesn't pack one of those excessively powerful punches that tries to redefine audio by showing how loud a film can get. This track, is about balance, a balance that is here in spades.
The dialogue and atmospheric effects are placed perfectly throughout the soundstage, with absolutely wonderful dynamics, not a second of distortion, not a single off or odd line or sound. Distinction, directionality, localization effects, they're all top notch. Echoes put you right in the middle of a number of scenes. Bass levels are a bit subdued, with a nice thump on the stomp of elephant hooves, or the constant rumble in the stampede, but there's never any real roaring moment, and especially in a scene filled with hundreds of rampaging beasts filling a room, you bet I would have loved to have that added depth.
Ah well. I really have no complaints. This track can't measure up to some of the other animated titles, of its era, before or after, with its obviously subdued intentions. There are times listening to the film where you want there to be a thunderous roar, a tremendous thump or rumble, and it just isn't there. This presentation is still very, very faithful to the original source.
Not everything from the Platinum DVD made its way here, sadly, tough most did.
The 2D presentation of this classic Disney film is every bit as amazing and awe-inspiring as the 3D version was. It's colors burst off the screen in what is arguably the most vibrant, colorful animated film on Blu-ray to date. This is a must own release for sure.