The Lion King (The Circle of Life Edition) Blu-ray Review: Don’t Wait to Own It

The Lion King, the greatest box-office hit of the Disney Renaissance, earning nearly a billion dollars worldwide, is the latest addition to The Signature Collection, the name currently being used to repurpose high-definition transfers with some new bonus material. The animation is impressive as are the voice actors and the movie tells a good story about the need to accept one’s mistakes rather than running from them.

The Lion King is available in the original theatrical edition or in sing-along mode, which provides subtitles along the bottom, turning the movie into a karaoke video. It opens with “The Circle of Life,” a song that tells the story of nature and manifests itself in the story as the animals of the jungle gather to honor the birth of the Prince Simba, the son of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Scar (Jeremy Irons), Mufasa’s brother, is disappointed Simba has replaced him in line for the throne, but schemes to rectify that.

A Wilderbeast stampede, a standout sequence in a movie filled with many, has grave consequences, and causes Simba to run away from the Pride Lands. In the desert, he meets meekrat Timon (Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumba (Ernie Sabella‎), who teach him “Hakuna Matata”, their problem-free philosophy. After Scar installs himself as King, things fall into disrepair. Simba’s friend Nala (Moira Kelly) begs him to come back and help, but he prefers to live his carefree life rather than deal with his past.

It’s easy to see why The Lion King was so popular. The story has a positive message and deals with death in way that makes it palatable for young children. The cast are talented and do a marvelous job bringing the characters to life. The animation team creates the high quality expected for a Disney movie. The songs by Tim Rice and Elton John are catchy. There’s a lot of humor that the whole family can laugh at, including a shared universe joke, which started in Aladdin, when Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) briefly sings “It’s a Small World”.

Having the same HD specs as the 2011 Diamond Edition, the video has a 1080p encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Colors are very vibrant and a wide spectrum can be seen in the opening sequence as the sun rises. A smart choice to have Scar’s eyes be green since he is consumed by jealousy. The blacks are inky, and a good example of them is in the elephant graveyard when Scar sings “Be Prepared”. The image is so sharp the animated cels can be seen standing out against CGI backgrounds. Most notably, when Scar catches a mouse.

The 7.1 track presents the boisterous score by Hans Zimmer and songs by Rice and John. On the soft end, the rain and crackle of fire can be heard, demonstrating a wide dynamic range. Dialogue is understandable throughout, but the echo effects during Mustafa last conversation with Simba cause his voice to rattle the speakers. This also happens during the final song as the new cub is presented. Objects move across channels, as when the extras shuffle to and fro during “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”. The subwoofer offers very good support.

The Bonus Material new to this release includes: Visualizing A Villian (HD, 3 min) – performance artist David Garibaldi interprets Scar through paint and dance in an utterly pointless extra. The story of how it was decided to be made and included would be more interesting. The Recording Sessions (HD, 5 min) shows the actors performing in the booth from very old video tapes.

Inside the Story Room (HD, 24 min) can be played together with introductions by co-directors Roger Allers and Ron Minkoff. The five sequences presented show archival video of how they were conceived through storyboards. Some fantastic drawings are shown.

Recorded in 2011 for the documentary Pride of the Lion King, “Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation” (HD, 7 min) finds the actors and producer Tom Schumacher reflecting on the film. The actors learn almost as much about the early days of the project as the viewers do.

Casting Matthew Story:

The remaining bonus material has been previously released. Bloopers & Outtakes (HD, 4 min) have been animated, but aren’t really worth it. The Morning Report: Extended Scene (HD, 3 min) – One of the new songs written for the stage play was animated for the DVD platinum release and inserted into the film. Also able to be played together with introductions by co-directors Allers and Minkoff, the five Deleted & Alternate Scenes (HD, 13 min) are made up of storyboard drawings with early audio recordings that don’t always include the cast members.

Song Selection (HD, 17 min) allows viewers to pick one or all of the songs as they were featured in the movie. Co-directors Allers and Minkoff and producer Don Hahn sit together and offer a lot of insight into the making of the film and the animation process on the Audio Commentary. The remaining bonus material from previous releases are available Digital Only, which is such a terrible choice by Disney to make fans overspend their money, so the Classic Bonus Preview (HD, 1 min) is a tease. The set also comes with a DVD, a digital copy, and Limited-Edition Film Frames, which is three frames on a 35-mm film strip of Rifiki holding Prince Simba aloft.

The Lion King is well worth having in one’s Disney video collection, but if the 2011 Diamond Edition is already there, there’s no need to double dip.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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