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Lion King, The (Diamond Edition) (3D/2D) (1994) Print E-mail
Monday, 26 September 2011
Image“The Lion King” is the pinnacle of Disney animation in the 1990s.  The 90s began with “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin.”  The later 90s proved decent with works such as “Pocahontas,” “Mulan” and “Hercules,” the latter being one of my favorites.  But, it was “The Lion King” that really stuck with audiences.

The music from Tim Rice, Elton John and Hans Zimmer is legendary.  It won Academy Awards.  Even after all these years, even with new generations, you will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the tune to “Hakuna Matata” or “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.”

The film has all the necessities of a great family Disney animation.  The story is unique and the images are unsurpassed.  The film really transports you to the African pridelands, well maybe not as much as “African Cats” does.  Nevertheless, “The Lion King” is an escape for audiences, nostalgic for those that were children or even teens in the 90s, and a new adventure for the next generation.

I could on and on about the film itself.  However, that is not why you are here.  You want to know the quality of this Blu-ray release.  Well, in a word, spectacular.  You will almost not find a better Blu-ray release.  In fact, the only ones I can think of that top it are other Disney/Pixar Blu-ray releases.  But, as I will get to in a moment, it is not the audio and video quality which hold back this Blu-ray release.

First things first - 3D.  How great is 3D?  Well, Disney gives us a pretty good example of the depth that can be added with 3D technology.  Using matting and digital rendering techniques, the wonderful animators at Disney have given us a whole new “Lion King” experience.  But, is it really better than the original 2D presentation?  Well, not exactly. Fully anticipating this release, I had no choice but to drag myself to the movie theaters (something I don’t do, given the theater in my studio) to see “The Lion King” resurrected on the big screen and in 3D.  I was all set for jaw-dropping 3D action.  You will be left disappointed.  Do not expect wildebeests to come flying from the screen in the stampede sequence.  Extension from the screen is extremely limited.  The most notable 3D extension from the screen occurs when the pollen travels through the wind from Simba to Rafiki.  And I will admit, it was really cool.  However, aside from that, the 3D conversion lies in the depth of the image.  This is where the 3D presentation shines in comparison to the 2D presentation.  The sky is beautifully separated from the foreground elements, leaving sunsets and twinkling stars gorgeously rendered in the distance.  Blades of grass are moved to the forefront, leaving the characters in yet in the third, middle layer of 3D.  The 3D conversion is essentially flawless.  There are a couple matting issues here or there, but blink and you’ll miss them.  So, that is the 3D nature of “The Lion King” on a theatrical screen.  How does the 3D presentation on the Blu-ray compare?

Well, I won’t be able to confirm this until I upgrade my theatrical system, but I suspect that the 3D Blu-ray presentation is a spot on match to the theatrical 3D viewing experience.  Sadly, 99 percent of the people out there will be viewing this 3D disc on at most a 65-inch screen, more likely something closer to a 50-inch screen.  So unless you sit a matter of a foot or two from the screen, the 3D impact is nearly worthless.  It is neat to see, but without the large screen size, 3D is underwhelming.  I will update this once I get my 3D 1080p projector installed in my theater and can viewing this 3D presentation on a 12-foot screen.  For now, the Blu-ray 3D disc is spectacular, but we lack the technology in the home to really get the most out of the experience.

Just as a side note, going to see “The Lion King” in theaters is a reminder as to why I built my own theater.  In the middle of a weekday, while school is in session, the theater was filled with tots and parents.  Shouldn’t parents be at work and children in school or daycare?  It is really hard to enjoy a film when kids are running all over the place or hoping up and down in front of you.  And what is worse, parents don’t care.  They let their children do whatever they wish.  I know out in the middle of Minnesota that they have adult-only theaters.  No, not those adult theaters.  There are film complexes that don’t allow children.  Brilliant.  Why can’t those be instituted all over the country, or at least, theaters that have specific screen times in which children are not allowed?  We can dream I guess.

This Blu-ray 3D combo pack also includes a 2D Blu-ray, a DVD and a Digital Copy.

I have already discussed the 3D nature of the release.  As for the picture quality, I will address the 2D disc, in which the 3D presentation is the same, minus some brightness in the image.  “The Lion King” makes its Blu-ray debut in a spectacular fashion.  Note: the aspect ratio has been opened from 1.66:1 on the previous DVD release to 1.78:1 on the Blu-ray disc.  Playing the 2D version in my theater was an incredible experience.  Short of “Beauty And The Beast,” I have never seen hand-drawn animation look so incredibly flawless.  Even stroke is visible.  The colors are fully saturated, with sunsets and sunrises leaving you breathless.  Watching this organic animated image just makes you wish that digital animation techniques never came to be.  Hand-drawn animation is vastly superior.  It is funny it works that way, but digital animation is cold and blocky, while penciled animation is fluid and more pleasing to the eye.  In addition the painting and matting of the cels are done with care and pride.  The black levels are pitch perfect, leaving the night sky and stars fully visible.  There is simply nothing wrong with this transfer.  For me, without a doubt, this and “Beauty And The Beast” are Disney’s two best looking animations to date.  I can only wait for “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.”  Stay tuned for a look at the “Beauty And The Beast 3D” release.

Since the music and audio quality of this release are of the utmost importance, I am pleased to report that Disney has done it once again.  For the Platinum Edition DVD, Disney gave is a new 5.1 DEHT track that blew our socks off.  Expecting nothing less from Disney, we are now supplied with a new 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio track.  Just as a quick comparison, the sound quality of the theater was just plain awful.  As a sound engineer I filed a notice with the theater given their desire to not activate the subwoofers and having no less than one main and two surround array speakers out of commission, to put it lightly.  Of course, even with those anomalies remedied, theaters still play back Dolby Digital 5.1 audio at 320kbps.  So, not only does the Blu-ray contain a 7.1 mix, but it is also lossless.  I can’t tell you how much of a difference those two items make.  The dialogue is pitch perfect.  The dynamic range is better than it has ever been before.  The low frequency extension, not just the LFE, is deeper and smoother than before.  This film came about at a time before overbearing sound design was implemented for Disney animations.  “Finding Nemo” changed all that.  Just listen to the shark attack sequence in that film.  It is no wonder it scared the pants off children.  Back to “The Lion King,” the surround channels are enveloping and immersive.  Panning and directionality in the rear channels is done effectively.  Music is crystal clear and lively.  Given the original sound design work, this track is flawless.  It is certainly the best that we are ever going to hear.

Okay, so the video quality and audio quality of the Blu-ray are fantastic.  The inclusion of a brand-new 3D presentation is exciting.  Where, this Blu-ray release fails in comparison to say, “Beauty And The Beast,” is the lack of bonus materials.  Sure, there are a lot, but when you get down to it, the organization is poor and stuff is still missing.

The Platinum Edition DVD released contained two DVD discs.  Sadly, most of those bonus materials are not found on this Blu-ray disc.  I will explain further in a moment.  By comparison, “Beauty And The Beast” contained two Blu-ray discs and all the bonus materials from its 2-disc Platinum Edition DVD release.  What has been done with “The Lion King,” is that the previous DVD materials are presented via the BD-Live function of the disc.  This is piss poor.  Why do the studios assume that an Internet connection goes hand in hand with a home theater.  A wireless connection isn’t going to hack it.  The buffering times of the BD-Live section are horrible.  When a consumer buys a Blu-ray package, particularly one of this cost, they expect everything to be in the package and not remotely accessed.  Yes, digital downloading is becoming popular.  However, those that want to download, download.  Those that want discs buy discs.  They don’t want to buy discs just to stream content.  And how about watching this on the go?  It is a little hard to access Internet bonus materials while you are on a plane.  Just horrible, simply horrible.  This is fact alone cut the rating of this section down by half.

Now that the rant is out of the way, the Blu-ray package does contain bonus materials actually on the disc, all located on the 2D Blu-ray disc.  But unlike the Platinum Edition DVD, the Blu-ray does not contain two versions of the film, or three versions in the case of “Beauty And The Beast.”  The deleted “Morning Report” song is only presented as a deleted song feature and not seamlessly branched.  This isn’t a big deal considering the song was wisely left out of the film.

Present on the Blu-ray disc but not on a previous release of the film is an audio commentary with Don Hahn, Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers.  

The Interactive Blu-ray Gallery contains a ton of sketches and alternate versions of character.  “Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition” contains three features; Deleted Scenes, “The Lion King: A Memoir: Don Hahn” and “Pride Of The Lion King.”  The latter two are retrospective pieces.  Also included are a sing-along mode, extended version of the “Morning Report” song, bloopers and Disney’s Second Screen option.

There is a lot of stuff to view in terms of bonus materials.  Unfortunately, the organization is poor and the fact that you now have to keep the Platinum Edition DVD in your collection to retain all the original bonus materials is just ridiculous.  Shame on you Disney.  Thankfully, much more attention to detail went into restoring the video and audio qualities and providing a unique 3D experience.  In that regard, job well done Disney.

Absolutely, a must have.

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