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“The king has returned.” This iconic line spoken by Rafiki towards the end of the film always becomes poignant each time The Lion King is re-released. Breaking out of the Disney Vault, the film is celebrating its third release on DVD, second Blu-Ray edition, and first time on Digital HD through the Walt Disney Signature Collection, the fifth release in the series. The animated classic can be yours to own on August 29th for a whole new generation to fall in love with. “It is time.”

Jokingly referred to as “Bambi in Africa,” the film tells the story of young Simba, prince of the Pride Lands. When his jealous uncle Scar plots to kill both Simba and his father Mufasa, Simba escapes and grows up in exile under the care of the carefree Timon and Pumbaa. But when his past returns to haunt him, he must return home to take his place as king to free his people from his uncle’s terrible rule.

The Lion King has the storytelling power to touch your soul and makes you feel the full spectrum of emotions in its 90-minute runtime. This powerful storytelling was not only a worldwide hit upon its initial release, but it also holds up as the most prestigious film in the Disney cannon, proving more popular than even Beauty and the Beast or Snow White in these modern times.

The iconic music by Elton John, Tim Rice, Hans Zimmer, and Lebo M. blend African stylings and pop sensibilities. It opened the door for projects like Moana which essentially captured the same magic formula. In this release, the film is presented as the “Original Theatrical Version” or in Sing-Along mode for the first time so you can follow stylized on-screen lyrics while watching the film.

This release corrects a few wrongs from the Diamond Edition. A shot had accidentally removed clouds from the sky following Simba’s discussion with ghost Mufassa, which have been restored on this version. The Virtual Vault has also been omitted, although most of the bonus features from the Platinum and Diamond Editions have been relegated solely to the digital copy and are left off the disc.

The Lion King’s Walt Disney Signature Collection release can be purchased as a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack, which is the subject of this review. It can also be obtained digitally through all major providers, but the incentive to buying the physical release is a limited edition film frame. This review details all of the specifics of the Combo Pack.

Bonus Features

The following bonus features are available on the Blu-Ray disc. If it is new to this release, it is indicate in the description.

  • Visualizing a Villain (2:53) – New – Performance artist David Garibaldi paints a large image of Scar while dancers perform “Be Prepared.” Yes, it is very weird.
  • The Recording Sessions (4:46) – New – Directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers introduce this clip reel of the voice actors in the studio in the early 90’s, mostly sourced from VHS resources.
  • Inside the Story Room (23:42) – New – Five story room sessions are presented with a “Play All” option or individually. When playing all, you get an introduction by the Directors about the storyboard process. The sessions themselves were recorded on a hand-held camera and use some close-ups of the artwork to help tell the story.
    • Circle of Life (4:58)
    • Simba & Nala (3:40)
    • Simba Takes Nala Out to Play (2:23)
    • Hakuna Matata (5:43)
    • Rafiki and the Reflecting Pool (5:55)
  • Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation (7:08) – New -Filmed for a 2011 documentary called “Pride of the Lion King,” this extended interview features moderator Tom Schumacher interviewing Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane from Sardi’s restaurant on Broadway while both actors were starring in The Producers.
  • Bloopers & Outtakes (3:44) – Animated bloopers created for the Diamond Edition release, sometimes using real recording session bloopers and other times completely made up animated moments. The flash animation style is a huge downgrade from what you will see in the films or even the sequels.
  • The Morning Report: Extended Scene (2:30) – Produced for the Platinum Edition DVD, this song from the Broadway show was inserted back into the film. This release does not allow you to watch the film with the scene, but it can be viewed here as a bonus feature.
  • Deleted & Alternate Scenes (12:42) – Available as a “Play All” feature or individual, the Directors introduce these deleted scenes from the Diamond Edition Release.
    • Zazu Flatters Mufasa (0:27)
    • “King of the Wild” (2:23)
    • Scar Wants Nala as his Queen (5:08)
    • Simba and Nala Reunited (3:19)
    • Zazu Flatters Scar (0:52)
  • Song Selection (16:49) – The five main songs from the film in their Sing-Along form are presented outside of the film as a “Play All” feature or individually.
    • “Circle of Life” (4:03)
    • “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” (2:35)
    • “Be Prepared” (3:01)
    • “Hakuna Matata” (4:08)
    • “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (3:02)
  • Audio Commentary (1:28:23) – Co-Directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff share this commentary with Producer Don Hahn. They provide a lot of insight into the story process as well as technical details and production anecdotes. The track itself is from 1994 and was recorded for the original laserdisc release.
  • Classic Bonus Preview (0:50) – New – An ad for the digital copy and the “3 hours of classic bonus features” that can be seen using this feature.

All of the Bonus Features on the Blu-Ray disc are also included in the digital release. What follows is a list of everything available digitally through iTunes.

  • Galleries – Four art galleries exploring the film’s Visual Development, Character Design, Storyboards, and Backgrounds & Layouts. Most of the artwork appears to come from the galleries on the Platinum and Diamond Edition releases. It has a Slideshow mode where it will auto-play the images from each gallery, or you can select them yourself.
  • The Lion King: A Memoir – Don Hahn (19:30) – A behind-the-scenes piece with home movies to tell the story of making the film.
  • The Animator’s Reunion (7:55) – The Directors reunite with the animation talent from the film and Don Hahn leads a discussion about the impact of the film.
  • Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (4:01) – “Circle of Life” is used to show how the Storyboards influenced the final sequence that ended up on screen.
  • Early Concept: Timon & Pumbaa Find Simba (2:58) – An alternate version of Simba’s introduction to Timon and Pumbaa in storyboard form.
  • Eacly Concept: Simba’s Presenation (4:00) – A very different way the film could have opened.
  • Abandoned Scenes: Warthog Rhapsody (4:18) – A deleted song that was replaced with “Hakuna Matata” presented in storyboard form.
  • Computer Animation (4:26) – An excerpt from “The Making of The Lion King” (from the 1994 Deluxe Laserdisc and VHS release) explores how CGI helped create the wildebeest stampede.
  • Early Presenation Reel (1:27) – Concept art set to music, this reel was used to help sell the film within Disney.
  • Platinum Edition Deleted Scenes (5:00) – Available as “Play All” or individually.
    • Bug Football (0:52)
    • “Hakuna Matata” (Timon’s Verse) (2:24)
    • “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (1:44) – The Timon and Pumbaa version
  • Stage Journey
    • Pride of The Lion King (38:06) – A feature from the Diamond Edition that is just as much about the making of the film as it is about the Broadway version, which makes its inclusion in this section curious. Elements of the Nathan Lane/Matthew Broderick interviews are included here.
    • Musical Origins (3:46) – Interviews with the creative team of the Broadway show about why it was adapted for the stage.
    • Screen to Stage (3:26) – Roy Disney talks about how the success of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway lead to The Lion King in this short feature about how the story was brought to life.
    • Musical Texture (3:11) – The new songs for the Broadway show are examined with their writing talent including Elton John, Tim Rice, and Lebo M.
    • Setting the Stage (2:14) – Thomas Schumacher and Julie Taymor explore the show’s stage design.
    • Leaps of Fantasy (3:31) – An exploration of the show’s choreography.
  • Film Journey
    • Origins (5:54) – The film’s creators discuss the origin of the film and how it took shape at Disney.
    • Production Research Trip (2:21) – Interviews with the crew and footage from the Africa research trip.
    • Art: African Influence (4:02) – See how the landscapes and folk art of Africa inspired the look of the film.
    • Reflections (6:33) – The filmmakers look back on the success of The Lion King.
    • Storyboard Process (4:12) – The footage from “Rafiki and the Reflecting Pool” (one of the new Inside the Story Room features) is presented with picture-in-picture storyboards. This feature was on the Platinum Edition DVD, but debuted on the 1994 laserdisc release.
  • Character Design (10:59) – Another feature from the 1994 laserdisc edition, the animators give an overview of the design of each character and explores their live action influences. These can be viewed through a “Play All” feature or individually.
    • Mufasa (0:51)
    • Simba (1:53)
    • Scar (2:39)
    • Rafiki (1:09)
    • Timon and Pumbaa (1:51)
    • Zazu (1:15)
    • Hyenas (1:21)
  • Story Journey
    • Story Origins (4:42) – The story team discuss the relationship between The Lion King, the Bible, Hamlet and Bambi.
    • Timeless Themes (3:58) – The creators discuss the film’s big themes, mainly life and death.
    • The Story Comes to Life (3:14) – The creators discuss how their personal lives influenced elements of the final story.
  • Animal Journey (17:12) – These kid-friendly pieces are voiced by Jason Marsden (Max from A Goofy Movie) and reuse some footage from Disney’s True-Life Adventures and educational videos to show footage of the real animals that inspired characters in the film. They can be viewed all together as a feature or individually.
    • Lions (3:00)
    • Meerkats (2:48)
    • Warthogs (3:00)
    • Hyenas (2:29)
    • Disney & Animals (5:55)
  • Music & More
    • The Making of The Morning Report (3:08) – The creative team discuss why they added “The Morning Report” to the Special Edition version of the film.
    • Musical Inspiration (3:49) – The creators discuss how Lebo M. and Mark Mancina’s reworking of “Circle of Life” changed the entire film.
    • Landmark Songwriting (3:13) – Tom Schumacher talks about how Tim Rice’s involvement lead to Elton John joining the project as the lead songwriter.
    • Orchestral Color (4:28) – Hans Zimmer discusses his approach to the score.
    • Scoring Emotion (2:57) – Hans Zimmer reveals how his personal story influenced the saddest melodies in the film.
    • Music: African Influence (3:48) – Lebo M.’s contributions to the music gave it authentic African elements.
    • Full Circle (1:47) – The team discuss the awards they won from the film, including Academy Awards for Best Song and Original Score.
    • “Circle of Life” Music Video (4:52) – Elton John performs his pop version of the opening song with black and white footage from a recording studio set against color footage from the film.
    • “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” Music Video (4:01) – Another Elton John classic, this music video features a more stylized color shoot in a white room with striking blue windows and projections from the film on the walls.
    • “Circle of Life” Music Video (4:11) – Disney Channel’s Circle of Stars assembled for their first of two Platinum Edition music videos, featuring talented young performers like Raven Symone, Hilary Duff, Christy Carlson Romano, and Anneliese Van Der Pol.
    • Making of “Circle of Life” Music Video (4:02) – Behind-the-scenes of the Circle of Stars’ music video shoot.
    • “Hakuna Matata” Multi-Language Reel (4:10) – The iconic song gets presented in many languages from around the world, including Italian, Dutch, Japanese, and Zulu.
    • International Release (3:38) – A look at the way The Lion King was released and marketed around the world.
    • DVD Sound Design (4:59) – Don Hahn talks about how much he loves DVDs and the 5.1 surround sound mix created for the Platinum Edition.

There aren’t any bonus features on the DVD disc, the new standard for Disney Combo Packs.

The included film strip features three frames of Rafiki lifting baby Simba up on Pride Rock. It is sealed inside a sturdy card and the back gives you a description of what this is. Advertised as owning a piece of the film, it is actually a reproduction created just for this release.

What’s missing? The Special Edition viewing mode is once again left out, meaning you can’t watch the film with “The Morning Report” seamlessly inserted. The Second Screen app experience was not carried over to this release from the Diamond Edition. Going back to the Platinum Edition, we lose the Virtual Safari plus three games (Timon’s Grab-a-Grub, Pumbaa’s Sound Sensations, and The Lion King Personality Profile). The DVD also featured a “Hakuna Matata” music video by Lebo M. created to promote the album Rhythm of the Pride Lands. And back to the days of VHS and Laserdisc, the official “The Making of The Lion King” is once again nowhere to be found, although the interviews from it were harvest for many of the included Platinum Edition bonus features, and a host of storyboards sequences.

Video

With the exception of the clouds being restored, this transfer looks identical to the Diamond Edition release. Colors and detail are consistently vivid and aliasing is at a minimum, presumably in the source material and not an issue with the transfer. It’s an impressive experience in HD on Blu-Ray.

The DVD looks soft in comparison to the Blu-Ray with extreme bright and dark colors unable to capture the luster of the

Audio

The primary audio track on Blu-Ray is a 7.1 DTS-HD mix that is exactly like the one on the 2011 release. It uses the full sound field with Hans Zimmer’s amazing score and sound effects, placing you in the center of the action. Other audio options include French and Spanish 5.1 mixes.

The DVD presents all three languages in 5.1 surround. It provides a similar effect to the 7.1 mix, but in comparison sounds less full.

Packaging & Design

The Lion King arrives in a standard-sized Blu-Ray case with disc holders on both sides of the interior. Inserts include the film frames, a digital copy/Disney Movie Rewards code, and a flier for Disney Movie Club. The initial pressing comes with a holofoil embossed slipcover for a limited time.

Both discs open with an ad for Pixar’s Coco (Dante’s Lunch). Selecting “Sneak Peeks” plays additional ads for Disney Movie Rewards and The Lion Guard. The menu features scenes from the film being created in splashes of paint.

Final Thoughts

The Walt Disney Signature Collection version of The Lion King offers breathtaking picture and sound on Blu-Ray plus a few new bonus features. The majority of the classic bonus features are sadly exclusive to the digital copy, but at least they are available somehow. The addition of the bonus film strip is a nice bonus, but certainly not a big enough reason for current owners of the film to upgrade.

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