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New <I>Lion King</I> Roars to Video

9 May, 2003 By: Joan Villa

The pint-sized Lion King will return in a home video version next spring to bridge the action from the wildly successful original 1994 animated movie and the hit 1998 direct-to-video sequel, Simba's Pride.

The Lion King 1 1/2 , due in early spring 2004, will offer an “irreverent edgy humorous backstory” to the original told from the unique perspectives of Timon and Pumba, who are again voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, explained Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Robert Chapek. Matthew Broderick will reprise his role as Simba, and the Academy Award-winning duo of Elton John and Tim Rice — who won an Oscar for Best Song for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from the original Lion King — return with the new song, “Meerkat Rhapsody.”

Disney has high hopes for 1 1/2 — which will not sport a subtitle in the fashion of The Lion King II: Simba's Pride — and has enlisted top talent and production values. The original Lion King will be out in a first-ever “Disney DVD” two-disc set Oct. 7 with a new John and Rice song, “Morning Report,” and loads of special features. That will be followed by The Lion King 1 1/2 and then a special edition DVD version of Simba's Pride in the fall of 2004 to create a “year of The Lion King” marketing and promotional event, Chapek said.

Slipping the video premiere of 1 1/2 between The Lion King and Simba's Pride re-release “reflects a philosophy that the property is bigger than any one channel,” Chapek said. “The Lion King is so absolutely huge that I don't think it's that critical as to what the order or the release velocity is by channel. It's the biggest franchise out there and by celebrating the year of The Lion King we're going to take what was already wanted and big in terms of a franchise and make it even bigger with the release of The Lion King 1 1/2”

Simba's Pride holds the highest-selling video premiere record, tallying unit sales in the double-digit millions and performing on video like “any couple hundred million dollar box office movie would do,” Chapek said. If any video franchise could break the record and ring up lion-sized sales for Walt Disney Home Entertainment, “this would be it,” he added.

To achieve those “lofty volume expectations,” 1 1/2 will be marketed to the broadest possible audience, from “anyone who bought the original Lion King plus anyone who's come into the marketplace since then,” Chapek said. Ad spending and marketing campaigns have not been defined, but will be significant to reflect the importance of the franchise, he added.

“We have a very big audience of people who bought it the first time on VHS,” he noted. “We think in the case of the original movie, we'll get a large portion of those consumers back as well as everyone who's come into the market since then.”

Disney will also attempt to hook new consumers on the original's two-disc DVD with innovative surround sound that is being designed and mixed for home theater systems.

“This going to be a whole new experience for consumers who have The Lion King on VHS already,” he said. “The theatrical mixes are certainly optimal for theaters but home theaters are set up differently, so our philosophy was a movie like this deserves special customized mix for 5.1 customized home channels and that's exactly what we did.”

The year-long publicity and advertising effort will also be boosted by a new wave of licensed merchandise to create in-store displays and keep the franchise visible to consumers, he added.

The Lion King 1 1/2 DVD will also provide music videos, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes views of how the movie was made and two featurettes: “Timon – The Early Years,” a “mockumentary” tracing Timon's childhood through tongue-in-cheek interviews with family and friends, and “Disney's Funniest Moments,” highlighting Disney animated characters from the Seven Dwarfs to Brother Bear.Two games include a virtual safari “backlot tour” through the Pridelands and a Lion King trivia game in the format of a “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” parody.

“We're very proud of our Disney video premiere line in terms of what it's been able to do in the market,” said Chapek. “I think when you put the power of The Lion King franchise together with our history of success in the marketplace with Disney video premieres and our history of producing superlative DVDs that are on the edge of what the technology can do, it's a recipe for success.”

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