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Lion King: Diamond Edition, The (3D Blu-ray Review)

30 Sep, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 10/4/11
Box Office $390.02 million
$39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 3D Blu-ray, $100 eight-disc trilogy set
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Ernie Sabella, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Robert Guillaume, Cheech Marin, Moira Kelly.

Is there a better statement about the quality of movies today than the fact that a 17-year-old cartoon can top the box office for two straight weeks?

The Lion King represented the peak of the so-called Disney renaissance of the 1980s and ’90s. Beauty and the Beast may have been more critically acclaimed, but it’s The Lion King that broke all the box office records for an animated film, and still remains the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film ever. Several of the film’s producers, most notably Jeffrey Katzenberg, remark in the bonus retrospectives that The Lion King elevated animation from ‘B’-level entertainment into the realm of the blockbuster.

During production, however, The Lion King wasn’t always king of the jungle. Most of the Disney creatives wanted to work on Pocahontas, which would be released the next year. That was seen as the more traditional Disney movie.

The Lion King, on the other hand, was a largely original story, inspired partly by Hamlet and other sources (though you won’t hear the words “Kimba, the White Lion” anywhere on this Blu-ray).

The Lion King’s spectacular color palette and memorable music, which won Oscars for songwriters Elton John and Tim Rice and composer Hans Zimmer, make for a magical experience on Blu-ray. The film is so bright and vivid that when it pops off the screen it looks like it was designed for 3D all along. This makes sense when you consider the nature of traditional animation, which already relies on layering to provide a sense of depth.

I was really struck by how much depth they were able to achieve with the 3D effects. There are scenes where birds float in front of the camera and then zip away, practically disappearing in the distance. Another effect I appreciated is one that doesn’t simply resort to layering to place the characters in perspective, but actually attempts to provide some realistic texture to their faces.

Extras on the Blu-ray consist mostly of new material. Included are two new top-notch retrospective featurettes. “Pride of The Lion King” is a reunion of sorts of the various animators, musicians and voice actors, as they share memories with Thomas Schumacher, president of the Disney Theatrical Group. He also talks with Julie Taymor about the hugely successful Broadway version. Since most of the contributors are unseen, Schumacher refers to the film as “art of the invisible,” and this featurette is his way of honoring them.

The Lion King: A Memoir” is a recollection of the making of the film from producer Don Hahn, and it plays like a deleted sequence from Waking Sleeping Beauty, Hahn’s excellent documentary about the Disney renaissance.

There are five deleted sequences that haven’t been seen before, including a song for Mufasa called “King of the Wild.” Another scene, which later was adapted for the Broadway show, depicts Scar declaring Nala is his queen, prompting her to flee on the journey in which she eventually finds Simba. These sequences are presented as rough sketches and storyboards with audio.

Leftovers from the Platinum Edition DVD include an audio commentary and the “Morning Report” sequence adapted from the stage version. It’s presented just as a standalone here and not as part of the movie as it is on the Platinum Edition. Other bonus material from the earlier DVD is available through BD-Live.

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