Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
James Earl Jones
Although it was a significant departure from the standard “fairytale” fare that viewers were accustomed to seeing from the house of mouse by the early 90’s, and despite the fact that the film used elements of the now typical (and freely copied) “Disney formula”, that had made its most recent predecessors like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN so universally popular, THE LION KING succeeded, and continues to succeed, on a completely different level. It does this, in part, by tapping in to a range of realistic human situations and emotions that viewers can learn from and empathize with, even though they are watching them being played out on screen, not by humans, but by a cast of exotic animals. That’s no small task. Dealing with such real-life issues as coping with the loss of a loved one, to lessons about facing your fears and owning up to your mistakes, this film can help to instill those lessons and values in our children, or even serve as a reminder to those of us so-called “grown-ups” who may have forgotten some of those valuable lessons along the way. That is the underlying power of this film, and why I believe it stands out from the crowd.
As usual, the voice talent that Disney assembled for this film was impeccable, lead by an impressive Jonathan Taylor Thomas ranging from playful to somber as young Simba and Matthew Broderick’s usually soft and coy vocals taking on a confident edge as an older Simba returns home to face off against his uncle. James Earl Jones provides the larger than life king, Mufasa, with a larger than life voice that resounds with the confidence and knowledge that you would expect a king to possess, while Jeremy Irons gives the main villain, Scar, a mischievous and commanding tone that, early on, even invokes a minute amount of empathy for his character that is rarely seen in the good vs. evil world of Disney. Comic relief is actually provided throughout by just about every character in the film, but is anchored by the perfect casting of Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as the unlikely Meerkat and Warthog duo of Timon and Pumbaa.
Disc 1 includes an excellent commentary track with director’s Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers along with producer Don Hahn, in which they recount (in surprising detail, I might add) the entire process of making the film, from the story’s origins, to the importance of the musical contributions of Tim Rice and Elton John. Lots of fun, with lots of great info! Also included on the first disc are: a brief look at 3 deleted or abandoned scenes; a featurette on the making of the newly included scene, Morning Report; a few set-top games; 3 music videos; and trailers for some upcoming Disney productions including one for the upcoming sequel, THE LION KING 1 ˝. Probably the niftiest thing to note of on disc one (especially for those of you with kids) is the inclusion of a sing along track that flashes up the words to all the songs while the film is playing. Good stuff.
Disc 2 :
First of all, let me just say that the “customized” navigation experience on the 2nd disc, which allows you to access the special features either by continent (Asia, Australia, Africa, etc.) or by topic (Story, Film, Music, Stage, etc.) is not only redundant, but at times confusing and ultimately annoying. I personally preferred the second option of browsing by topic (although I only realized this after I had confusingly explored each continent first!) Browsing by topic allows the user to select individual features within the sections one by one, or watch all the features in that section continuously, by choosing the Begin Journey option. Not many of the featurettes run much longer than 5 minutes each, so some DVD buffs who are looking for detailed, in-depth features like the ones that can be found on previous Disney Platinum Editions like TOY STORY 1 & 2, may be a little disappointed, but there is still enough here to make it worthwhile. Also, notably absent from the extras is any kind of features about, or with, the cast. No interviews, no clips, no nothing. Very odd! Here’s how the sections break down:
Story: This journey takes a look at the origin and influences behind the film through the featurettes: Story Origins, Timeless Themes and The Story Comes to Life.
Film: One of the more robust sections, this journey explores the inspiration for the look of the film, all the way through to completion, including the features: Origins, Production Research Trip, Art: African Influence, Reflections, Storyboard Process, Production Design, Computer Animation, Character Design Featurettes and Galleries, and more.
Stage: As you might have guessed, this section deals with the massive undertaking and evolution of bringing The Lion King to Broadway and includes lots of interesting and eye opening facts about adapting it for the stage through segments like: Musical Origins, Screen to Stage, Musical Texture, Setting the Stage, Leaps of Fantasy and more.
Music: Lots of great stuff here including interviews with Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice and Lebo M. mixed throughout the features: Music Inspirations, Landmark Songwriting, Orchestral Color, Scoring Emotion, Music: African Influence, Audio Sequel, Full Circle, and more. There are also 3 music videos to choose from as well.
Animals: This section outlines Disney’s longtime relationship with the animal kingdom and kicks off with an introduction by Roy Disney and features informational segments about the animals of the Lion King, including: Lions, Meerkats, Warthogs and Hyenas. Mostly for the kiddies, but some adults will get a nostalgic kick out of seeing clips from old Disney nature shows in the Disney & Animals featurette.
Virtual Safari: One of the most innovative segments on the disc, The Virtual Safari is a 3D set top game (that features full 5.1 surround, no less), in which you ride along with tour guides Timon and Pumbaa (even though you make all the navigational decisions), either in a boat or a jeep, through some pretty treacherous terrain. Fun stuff to keep the kids occupied for an extra hour or so.