|Lion King, The (Platinum Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 October 2003|
“The Lion King,” Disney’s African continent-sized 1994 traditional animation hit, has made its way into the pantheon of legend, with good reason. The screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton uses classic mythic structure – young prince in exile finds his courage and returns home to save the kingdom and reclaim his birthright – as the framework for a classic Disney-style animal drama musical, with anthropomorphic lions, warthogs, hyenas, birds, etc. taking all the roles.
For anybody who has somehow missed it (this would be people who have no children under the age of 18), here’s the story in brief: Good King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) rules the verdant Pride Lands, knowing that some day his little son Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) will succeed him. Mufasa’s jealous brother Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons in what sounds a lot like an homage to “Jungle Book’s” snooty tiger villain Shere Khan) engineers Mufasa’s death and makes Simba believe he is responsible. Simba runs away and is taken in by fellow outcasts Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane), a chatty meerkat, and Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), a flatulent warthog. Simba grows to man – er – manehood (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) under their carefree tutelage, only to go through a crisis of conscience and eventually face his demons and his Uncle Scar when he learns that the Pride Lands are withering under Scar’s dictatorship.
The song score by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice has become as famous as every other aspect of “The Lion King.” While the ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” got the lion’s share of attention, it’s the opening anthem “Circle of Life” that is truly spine-tingling. The new digital DVD transfer does it full justice, with a rightly-touted new “enhanced home theater mix” putting forth a layered musical soundstage from the start of Chapter 1, which handles the delicate pastels of Mt. Kilomanjaro and the bright primaries of the presentation ceremony on Pride Rock with equal precision. The DVD comes with both the original theatrical version and a new version (the latter is the default if you hit “play”) – the difference between the two is the inclusion of the song “The Morning Report,” delivered by Mufasa’s toucan assistant Zazu in Chapter 3 with pun-filled flair (the song was originally introduced in the stage musical version of “Lion King,” which is in turn based on the film, speaking of circles).
Chapter 6 has a floor-shaking rumble as a volcanic hole in the ground shudders, and there are scary discrete hyena yelps in the rears that make us feel that we’re being pursued. Chapter 8 places another atmospheric volcanic eruption in the rears, setting the stage for Scar’s anthem “Be Prepared,” which carries a palette of evil-looking greens and reds in the best tradition of Disney animated menace. Chapter 13 has some fun squelchy sounds in the right main as Pumbaa happily sucks down a slug for supper – the Chapter also has a wonderfully economic rendition of Simba’s transition from cub to lion, done in a few quick cuts during the ultra-happy ode to taking it easy, “Hakuna Matata.” Chapter 19 has the voice of Robert Guillaume’s baboon shaman Rafiki jumping around discretely from speaker to speaker as the primate leaps around the frame, and there’s impressively blended African chanting in the rears during a journey montage in the same chapter.
The two-disc set is packed with a ton of extras (although, curiously, there’s no audio commentary track from directors Roger Allers and Robert Minkoff, though Allers is well-represented in on-camera interviews in the supplements). An especially interesting segment on Disc 2 deals with the stage musical, which showcases director/designer Julie Taymor’s creative way of allowing the actors to use their faces while still giving the impression of an animal aspect.
Any serious collector of animated film needs this DVD; any parent can hardly avoid it. Anyone who just loves good filmmaking will want “The Lion King,” for the simple reason that it is a splendid film, presented beautifully here.