THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill Kallay"The Lion King" is so engrained in our pop culture, it's hard to believe that when it was being made, hardly anyone at Disney really cared about it. Yet the animators and storytellers making it knew that they had a special film in their hands.
"The Lion King" is now available on Blu-ray. This is a review of the 2-D version.
I've never considered myself a huge fan of the film, but I've always admired it. It has never been one of those perennial Disney classics that I've watched again and again. I'm not sure if it's because I've heard the opening "Circle of Life" a hundred times, or if it's Disney's constant mining of the film by producing stage shows and DVD sequels. The film has never caught me like "Fantasia" or "Pinocchio." But what do I know? The film has been a phenomenon ever since it was released in 1994. Something about it resonates with audiences, and that's something that films such as "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast" haven't quite been as successful at. "The Lion King" seems to have more staying power than those other two films.
Other than watching the film on DVD years ago with my daughter, it had been quite awhile since I had seen the film. In fact, I think the last time I really sat down to watch it was in a theater with my then-four year-old nephew in 1994. In watching it again on Blu-ray, I had realized how deep the plot of the film was. Certainly the story borrowed elements from classic mythology and plays. But the story is handled with conviction and care.
Simba, the new prince of the savannah, is born. His king father, Mufasa, takes him under his paws and teaches him about the circle of life and his place in it. Mufasa tells Simba that one day he will be king. That doesn't set too well with Mufasa's brother, Scar. Both Simba and Mufasa are set-up, leading the death of Mufasa. Simba is told by Scar that his father's death is his fault and he's told to runaway forever. Only there in the jungle where he grows up that he discovers, reluctantly, that he must face his past and save his kingdom.
The story has all the elements of greatness. Love, tragedy, betrayal, revenge, and redemption. Not every movie succeeds in establishing those parameters, and very few movies actually use them as well as "The Lion King" does.
At its core, the relationship between Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick) and Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is incredibly moving. The interaction between father and son is rarely shown in films, and that's too bad, for here it's presented with admiration. I still get a bit misty-eyed when Mufasa scolds Simba for going to the Elephant Graveyard. It's a simple, yet very powerful scene.
The 1994 film was the second Disney animated feature to cast major movie stars in the voice roles. The studio had historically relied on lesser known, yet highly talented, actors to voice its animated characters. There is a lot of voice and acting talent in this film and it rarely overshadows the film as a whole. Outside of Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin's antics, I've always found the voice casting to be excellent.
The one area that I've never caught on to in "The Lion King" are the songs. They're not bad, but I always gravitated towards the songs from "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." Being a fan of Elton John's early 1970s work, I've had a hard time adapting to almost anything he's done since the 1980s. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," though very popular in its heyday, was never a favorite Elton John tune to my ears. "Hakuna Matata" is delightful. The rest of the songs, including the much overplayed "Circle of Life," are good.
The Blu-ray picture is excellent. I'd even say it is stunning. "The Lion King" was one of the early traditionally animated films by Disney to utilize a digital "negative." As a result, the imagery is clear and sharp. Colors jumps off the screen and there is depth to the image. "The Lion King" was released in 70mm in a special Radio City Music Hall engagement, as well as a special IMAX engagement in 2002. I haven't seen the new 3-D version to judge. Audiences have been able to see the film in select high-quality presentations, so it's great to see such a supreme presentation at home.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a stunner. "The Lion King" has always sounded great and the Blu-ray version is no exception. Of course, the wildebeest stampede will rattle your walls. This has been a home theater demo scene since the days of LaserDisc. My favorite section of sound is in Chapter 19 when Mufasa visits Simba. James Earl Jones' voice surrounds the room with depth and power that you can actually feel in your chest.
Even though it's not one of my personal Disney favorites, "The Lion King" is still a very good film.
Special thanks to Click Communications
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