I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of “The Lion King.” I thought “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” were far superior in terms of story and music. (Of course, the general public didn’t necessarily agree with me on that one, considering it’s one of the most successful animated films ever.) However, “The Lion King 2-Disc Special Edition” is one of the best DVDs I’ve come across in a long time.
“The Lion King” DVD has everything you’ve come to expect from a DVD. The image is beautiful, fresh from any videotape artifacting. The sound is excellent as well. But beyond the pure technical superiority of this format, “The Lion King” is jam packed with plenty of extras and features (and we all know that’s the real reason to open your wallet to buy it, after all).
In fact, there is so many featurettes and extras on the second disc that you need a map to find your way through. Fortunately, this DVD comes with one. It also comes with a handy chart to tell you where you can find any particular feature.
To be extra creative, the folks at Disney give the audience a couple different options on how to view the DVD itself. The content is organized by subject, focusing on the film, the music and the stage play. It also offers a more creative approach by organizing content by continent. For example, “Africa” includes features on the music, short nature documentaries about the animals, and character development. Of course, some features fit under multiple continents (such as the movie trailer for “The Lion King 1 1/2,” which is Timon and Pumbaa’s retelling of the story and comes out in 2004 and actually looks pretty funny).
One of the biggest additions to the original film is the inclusion of a new song, performed by Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), called “The Morning Report.” It was recorded and animated specifically for the DVD release, but unfortunately it is quite a forgettable song and actually seems out of place. (Of course, it’s better than what was originally scripted – Mufasa singing about how cool it is to be king.) If you’re a “Lion King” purist, you do have the option of watching the film with or without this song.
There are some interactive games on the DVD, but they’re pretty lame as you might come to expect from DVD games. In the case of “The Lion King,” the games challenge you to catch grubs using your remote control and match animals with their sounds. Ultimately, I doubt these games will ever take off because the remote player format just doesn’t lend itself to anything spectacular. However, at least there’s plenty of other cool things on these discs to keep you occupied for several hours.
The most annoying thing about the DVD itself is that it defaults to about a dozen previews for upcoming film and video releases every time you put the disc in the player. However, while I curse Disney for this every time I put in one of their DVDs, I also thank Disney for allowing me the ability to skip through all the trailers and go straight to the video. And the second disc of “The Lion King” doesn’t have any default trailers at the beginning, so that’s a big plus if you want to watch the featurettes in bits and pieces.
One of the gems of DVDs in general is the commentary track, and “The Lion King” has one featuring the directors. It’s a better than average commentary with the directors not just talking about the technical specifics of animation, but also giving neat tidbits of information from behind the scenes – like what Rafiki is actually singing to Simba when he comes to find him in the jungle.
Another standard DVD extra that can often fall flat are the deleted scenes. Here, these scenes are quite insightful into the somewhat rocky process of developing the story. They also remind us that even when a classic is made, there are plenty of half-baked ideas and concepts that almost make it to the final film. For example, before the song “Hakuna Matata” was written, it was originally going to be a diddy called “Warthog Rhapsody.”
Now, you might find yourself thinking, “Man! That’d be a great song for Timon and Pumbaa!” Disney treats us to the scratch version of the song with storyboards, and it’s clear why they replaced it with the far superior “Hakuna Matata.” It takes a lot of guts for filmmakers to put unfinished works out there for the public to see, but it’s important to do when you really want to examine the development of the film.
“The Lion King” DVD is one of those rare gems that is worth the buy because you could easily spend the retail cost in rental fees in order to have enough time to watch everything.
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