Some things personify Disney. The Jungle Book, Snow White, staggering VHS/DVD releases much to the public’s annoyance, massive theme parks and of course, the sort of sickly sweet cheer and joy that people often need to escape reality. Add to this list, The Lion King – a film that has made Disney more money than they know what to do with. It has had multiple VHS/DVD releases, has been made into a show at the theme parks, and on the proper stage which was received with critical acclaim and don’t even start on the toys and paraphernalia spawned from this film which includes, another film! Oddly enough, the Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride was released over here before it was in the States on DVD, and even before the first film was released!

The Film
A new dawn is approaching and loyal subjects gather around Pride Rock to witness the presentation of the Kings first born. A hush descends on the gathered crowd and then the infant is held aloft by the Kings advisor for all to see, amid rapturous applause. However, it is not humans, but animals that perform this event. The revered lion, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) has had a son and all the animals of the pride land have gathered to catch a glimpse of this royal announcement. However all is not well. This new child is now next in line to the throne and this means the King’s brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons) – a weaker but cleverer lion, will never be king – unless something were to happen to Simba and Mufasa. Scar plots against the two lions but knowing he has not the strength to defeat Mufasa, he enlists the help of the motley hyenas as company.

His plan executed, Simba and Mufasa are no longer in the picture and Scar and the hyenas take over the pride land, laying it to waste. Simba does not know this as he wanders alone, banished. He makes friends with a pair of sidekicks – Timon (meercat) and Pumba (gassy warthog). The three become great friends. Timon and Pumbaa share their live philosophy with Simba – Hakuna Matata – it means No Worries. This helps Simba forget who he is and what he has left behind until he stumbles upon a childhood friend. She convinces him (with the help of a baboon!) to return and accept his responsibility as the King.

And that in a nutshell is the story of The Lion King. As with other Disney flicks, this features a lot of music, with a few tunes penned by the wig wearing glitter ball himself, Reginald Kenneth Dwight (or Elton John, if you prefer) including Can You Feel The Love Tonight and Circle of Life. This is a pretty funny film with a lot of humour and some great voice acting from Rowan Atkinson, Jeremy Irons and Matthew Broderick. Obviously a lot of the humour is supplied by the sidekicks Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). The animation is excellent and the music fits in well with the theme. This is a great kids film, which as with a lot of recent Disney movies, works for adults too. It is not in the same comical league as Toy Story or any of the other Pixar treats from an adult perspective, but someone certainly loved it – with over $750 million from box office receipts alone (with Toy Story on $359 and Monster’s Inc on $384) it certainly appealed so someone a lot out there!

This DVD features two cuts of the film - the Theatrical cut and the Special Edition version which features an all new song.

I was blown away with the beautiful colours that this 1.66:1 anamorphically enhanced DVD hurls at the screen in throes. Colours are verging on too vibrant in some scenes and the DVD producers are to be highly commended on their efforts. No damage to the film is visible and all dust and other artefacts are non-existent. No colour grading is present and compression artefacts do not raise their ugly head ever. Well, almost ever. There is one or two moments when it is possible to see what appears to be some MPEG artifacting in some of the darker scenes but to be honest it is so small I doubt all but the most ardent would notice it. The level of detail present in each scene is very high indeed and the backgrounds are stunning. This is surely one of the best video presentations for a non-computer generated animated feature ever. Spirited Away looked great, this looks pristine.

This is the more interesting part of this DVD as two 5.1 audio streams are present. The first is the original theatrical mix and is a little flat and quiet, particularly in the bass department. Not a bad mix in itself but the problem is that the second mix is so mind blowing that it blots the first from memory. After reading the press release for this, it does sound like the marketing team made up something to make the DVD sound better with the “Disney Enhanced for Home Theatre (DEHT)” mix. Apparently this mix was created for several reasons. The original theatrical mix was made around the early stages of Dolby Digital’s life and so it was still testing the waters as it were sound wise – that and the producers did not want to scare the audience with the thundering bass of a heard of wildebeast stampeding. Making a new mix was not just a case of a a quick poke on the current mix until it sounded right, but creating a new mix from scratch designed specifically for the large screen theatre (IMAX) and the home cinema. However it really did blow my socks off.

Firstly, it is significantly louder than its counterpart giving an instant impression of a richer, fuller sound. The surround channels are also a lot louder than normal – I have mine set to a fairly high volume to maximise the surround sound on a lot of DVDs but this needed me to turn them down, such is the vibrant use of these channels. The actual mix is different too with a lot more surround effects making the whole experience more immersive. The thundering wildebeast hooves dance around the soundstage and the music is clear and enthralling. My only gripe with this is that the other channels get so loud at times that the vocals, particularly in songs, tend to be drowned out a little due to the immense noise coming from everywhere else. Originally I was a little worried to hear the R1 release did not have the DTS soundtrack option however upon hearing this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix I couldn’t care less – and normally I am an advocate of DTS soundtracks on DVDs! I truly do not care here however, as the clear dialogue, smooth music, dynamic and truly masterful use of the surround channels as well as the very deep bass and bright high frequencies create what I feel safe in saying is the best Dolby Digital soundtrack I have ever heard. Disney, while it might not be quite as useful on Aladdin, I really am begging for a DEHT mix on that DVD when it is finally released!

Guess how long it takes to get to the menu from when you put the disc in the drive and hit play? Ten minutes and fifteen seconds! This involves a preview of The Lion King 1, Brother Bear, George of the Jungle 2, Finding Nemo, The Santa Clause 2 and some lame Disney World advert. These are skipable features – I wish Disney wouldn’t have previews on DVDs like this. Once you have skipped all these you then have to wait further still due to the animated menu. Ok so it sets a scene but it just goes on, and on. For about a minute and twenty seconds! Then it talks through the extra features which is quite a good idea, however by this time you can finally select PLAY so lets go.

The menu system is split into several Lion King themed areas with the first being Grasslands. This in turn features two areas – The Making of the Morning Report and The Lion King Personality Game. The Morning Report is a song that was cut from the theatrical version and is now presented in this DVD on the extended version of the film. This feature looks at why it has now been added to this DVD as well as the content of the song itself including several chats with the main crew for the film. The Personality Game determines which Lion King character you are most like determined by the parrot, Zazu. I am most like Simba. So be careful when near me! GRRRRRRRrrr!

The Tree of Life contains 3 subsections. The music video for The Circle of Life, the Making of this Video and a Sing-Along track. The video is performed by the Disney Channel (kids) “Circle of Stars” – not impressed with that at all. Something that makes me want Elton John back singing cannot be a good thing. The Making Of is a look at how they made this remake. These kids are pretty obnoxious. Hilary Duff (known for her Lizzie MacGuire character) mentions how perfect the original song was – so why they felt the need to kill it is beyond me. The Sing-Along track is pretty amusing. This plays the extended cut of the film, with lyrics on screen for the whole family to sing-along with. Kids and adults alike will lap this up I’d imagine.

Jungle features two sections – Timon’s Grab-A-Grub game and Pumbaa’s Sound Sensations. Never a fan of these games, this is squarely aimed at the younger viewers however it does feature an alternate two player mode which is a nice idea. Pumbaa’s Sound Sensations is a game in which the viewer must match up a sound to its animal. While it sounds dull the voice over by Pumbaa is quite good and I am sure it’s almost educational for kids too so you can’t go wrong here.

The Elephant Graveyard features 3 Deleted and Abandoned Concepts. Bug Football is introduced by producer Don Hahn and is presented in storyboard format with voices done over the top. Hakuna Matata is again presented by the producer and shows the missing verse from the song of the same name sung by Timon again in storyboard format. Can You Feel The Love Tonight is introduced by Tim Rice. Following on from him is Elton John talking about the first version he heard of the famous song.

Finally the last proper extra on the first disc is the best – the Commentary track. Producer Don Hahn and Directors Rob Minkoff & Roger Allers talk about each scene thoroughly. This is an above average commentary and is at times quite fast paced. It is only available in the theatrical version of the film and this leads me to suspect it was ripped from the LaserDisc of the same name. Obviously men with a passion for their work, then end on a “beautiful” song. Enjoy!

There is also a Preview of Disc 2 which I have to say is totally absurd. Why they would need to pimp the second disc to people that already own it is beyond me. There are also eight trailers for other Disney related films which are the same as the ones that appear at the start of the disc, except this time Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty are also available. A THX Optimiser is also included as it is on all THX certified discs.

Disc 2 contains the meat of the extras, so here we go. This is going to take some time so I am not going to spend too long detailing each extra in too much detail.

The second disc opens a menu with 12 options on it. That’s a lot considering each has sub categories. There are 6 options named after land masses and 6 named after more Lion King specific material. However the sub menus for the first 6 options contain mostly the same content as the other menus options, albeit in a different order. This made it hard to watch everything as some items are repeated several times in different menus and yet some items can only be found in one place - confusing!

Story is the first area up for review and split into three parts which are playable individually or as a whole (as each section is). Story Origins shows how the world on the Lion King is a parallel for our own world. It gets compared to the bible a few times and Simba is compared to Moses. That should keep the bible-bashers happy. It is also compared to Hamlet from the point of view that Scar – the threat - is part of the Royal family. They even used lines from Hamlet for a while but it became to obvious so it was dropped. I quite enjoyed that four and a half minute video. Timeless Themes is expands on this story element and shows how the family theme is pushed in this film with loyalty and responsibility high on the agenda.

Stage features six subsections. This takes a look at the Broadway production as the production of Beauty and the Beast was currently on stage (1994). Everyone bar a select few was very sceptical and thought it would just look absurd. This then evolves to talk about  how the unique mask style was created for  the show in that the actors faces should be visible at all times for all the cast – the reason being it is not just an animal story, but also a human story. It looks very impressive and I would certainly consider seeing this production – it looks incredibly innovative. Julie Taymor (Director, Costume Designer, Mask/Puppet Co-Designer, Additional Lyricist) really was a driving force in this production and the way it finally looked on stage and from her list of jobs, seems to have had influence in most of the areas. Moving on from this, we get to the music. This is where the African element of the film is brought into the forefront of the play. However it also includes “British pop songs” (thanks for that) and it also has to gel together – and not only that – it has to be played by an orchestra which ends up with a real multitude of musical instruments from all over the world. This section runs for sixteen minutes.

Virtual Safari is a little different. You get to choose one oftwo tours. I chose the boat tour first, at night. Narrated by Timon, this is amusing and again, educational and interactive. I liked this, and kids will love it. If they don’t jump when the monkeys arrive I’ll be surprised. The jeep tour is fairly similar and again well scripted. This is quality material! I wasn’t too keen on the me falling in the back of the cliff however I was then told it was just a ride and so I feel happier and know that I didn’t die. The 5.1 sound just adds to the whole experience – certainly one of the best ‘Made for DVD’ interactive features I have seen.

Music is split into seven sections and 3 videos. Hans Zimmer talks about the African singers and Lebo M who was brought in by Zimmer and is not only responsible for the African vocals, but for the opening line which really sets the scene as 'Africa'. Elton has a good chance to talk about his songs as does Tim Rice. I liked the way that originally it was going to be called King of the Jungle until they realised there are no lions in the jungle. From this Zimmer goes on to explain that originally he wasn’t going to use an orchestra at all and just use African percussion instruments however this was soon dismissed when he started working. I have liked a lot of Hans Zimmer’s work on other films and it is interesting to hear him talk about his concepts, the way he related the music to the emotions of the characters, the way he had to stop looking at the characters as animals and start looking at them as humans, and his passion for being there (obviously reflected in his success). Again, we hear about Lebo opening the vocals in the film and even though the film is available in 32 languages – the opening is always Lebo M. The Rhythm of the Pridelands is a soundtrack released in conjunction with the film of a mix of African and American music which is showcased next. Those involved with the music realised that they had so much great music that they could release a soundtrack like this for everyone to enjoy. So they did. Briefly, Elton and Tim end this section talking about their Oscar in a mishmash of sound bites from the rest of the crew and images from the production of the film. This runs for twenty four minutes. The music videos are The Circle of Life and Can You Feel the Love Tonight performed by Elton John, and Jimmy Cliff’s version (featuring Lebo M) of Hakuna Matata.

Animals is the final menu option, broken down into six parts. Introduced by Roy Disney, this section looks at the real animals behind the characters in the Lion King. This nature documentary of sorts covers lions, meerkats, warthogs and hyenas. A mix of film and cartoon footage accompanied with a happy Disney-style voice over, this is again more educational stuff for your kids. Meerkats are funny. Rounding this off is a collection of all the animals that have been involved with Disney including both the animated and the real kind. And don’t forget the animal themed rides that Disney parks all over the world have people queuing up for. I never knew there were so many live-action Disney films with animals in them and we are shown a few clips from several here. This runs for eighteen minutes.

There are a few extra features not duplicated throughout the two dividing parts of the menu system. These are now looked at below.

The Multilanguage Clip Reel showcases the different languages that the film was made in through the Hakuna Matata song. In every language, the characters all sound the same – it’s just a different language. Each time a new country has its turn in the song, you can hit ENTER on your remote and see each countries favourite scene.

International Release shows how Disney since Snow White, have had their films translated into different languages so they can reach the widest audience possible. This is not as straightforward as it might seem as they need to make sure the humour is translated across too so the translators have to be able to understand the joke, and then translate it in such a way that it plays to the strengths of that particular countries humour. This even includes the soundtracks which are also released in local languages.

There are seventeen galleries on the disc including a look at the Stage Musical Publicity, the International Soundtrack Covers and the International Large Format Release (IMAX). These are all well and good if you like that sort of thing but I have never been a fan of galleries on DVDs.

Producer Don Hahn talks about his passion for DVDs in the DVD Sound Design. Terry Porter (also responsible for the original 5.1 sound mix) talks about how the 5.1 sound technology was quite new back when the Lion King was first released and so they took a fairly conservative stance on the soundtrack.  With the new IMAX release the sound was re-created to be more aggressive so that it sounded better in the more advanced systems of a large screen theatre. Then came the DVD and so Terry took the large format mix made for theatres and put it into a format that would work in a home cinema system. Terry tried to create the illusion that the viewer is sitting right in the middle of the orchestra (which worked, by the way) and they talk about upping the sub levels on such parts as the wildebeast stampede.

Computer Animation shows that while most of the Lion King was hand-drawn, there were certain effects the director wanted that would have been almost impossible to draw by hand – namely the wildebeast stampede. Here, based on a wildebeest from a character designer’s hand drawn artwork, a 3D computer model was created and this was replicated many many times to produce the stampede we see today.

Storyboard to Film Comparison shows the opening scene in the form of storyboards and the finished product to give you an idea of what the animators and artists had to work with. These are certainly some of the better storyboards I have seen (especially after looking through the ones Sam Raimi drew for his Evil Dead series of films!). There really must have been thousands of these – after all one hundred storyboards takes just over three minutes to run.

Early Concept – Timon and Pumbaa find Simba shows the storyboards for an early idea for when Simba was found, fully voiced by the correct actors. Early Concept – Simba’s Presentation is an early storyboarded look at the Circle of Life scene while the movie was still called King of the Jungle, and Circle of Life hadn’t even been written. The characters and their roles are slightly different so it is interesting to see how this started out. Warthog Rhapsody is an abandoned concept which later grew into Hakuna Matata however this storyboard version sung by Timon and Pumbaa is a little rough around the edges but is very much, a smooth groove. The Early Presentation Reel was made for all the films partners including the companies that make the toys, games and theme park attractions etc. to help get everyone excited about the project. This is a non-animated collection of artwork made (I guess) by the films artists. Nothing very cartoony about any of it however it does show that the film is about animals, in Africa which is I guess all they could show at such an early stage.

Animal Kingdom Park and Lodge are two small features which are a sneaky way of basically advertising the Orlando theme park and resort.

Well after that what can I say? It is a very impressive selection of extra material on top of a blistering video and absolutely unbelievable audio presentation. The DVD has been themed well around its film and the extras, particularly those created just for the DVD are for the most, very well done indeed. This Platinum Edition really oozes quality and it will be a credit to anyone’s collection. I heartily recommend it even if you are not really a fan, just so you can test the DEHT audio mix on your system.