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Toon Talk: Lion King DVD
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
October 21, 2003
Kirby reviews the DVD debut of The Lion King.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Disney

The Lion King
Platinum Edition
2 Disc DVD Set

The Mourning Report
With the recent release of the Platinum Edition DVD of The Lion King, I would love to say that Disney’s most successful homegrown animated feature of all time has finally arrived home with the deluxe DVD treatment it deserves, nay, requires.

And for the most part, that would be a true statement: the rich colors, vivid animation and vibrant sound most recently on display in its IMAX/Large Format release of the film are all available to behold on this release, and to the casual viewer, that may seem like enough. Actually, more then enough, for a newly animated musical number (“The Morning Report?), a lá Beauty and the Beast’s “Human Again?, has been inserted as well. What more could anyone ask for one might ask?

Well, how about the original theatrical version of the film … you know, the movie that took everyone by surprise almost a decade ago to become a pop culture phenomenon, spawning videos, toys, theme park attractions and a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, not to mention changing the way your average audience views animated films in general and Disney animation in particular, as well as forever altering the industry conceptions of what makes an animated hit … you know, how about that version?

But wait, you say, it says right here on the packaging that this DVD includes the “original theatrical? version. Hate to tell you, but not quite: while the disc does give you the option of choosing between the “new special edition? (that is the IMAX/Large Format version with the extra song) and the so-called “original theatrical version?, the latter is actually just the IMAX/Large Format version (with enhanced animation and sound effects) minus the new song. And to add insult to injury, you really have to go hunting to even find this “original theatrical version? (it’s buried in the “Set Up? menu); plus (at least on the disc and player I viewed), there is a slight, yet still noticeable, pause at the moment where the new animated segment ends. (And that’s not even mentioning the now infamous re-stylized crocodiles during “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King?.) Even more so, some have lamented the lack of substantial supplementary material (including a large cache from the film’s laser disc issue that is not available on this set); the set instead favors more lame DVD games (just how many personality tests can we take?) and an even lamer Hilary Duff music video.

It's such indiscretions (albeit some minor, such as the crocs) that has increasingly frustrated, upset and bewildered Disneyphiles: how could Disney mishandle their King of animation in such a way? Decries of false advertising and betrayal of the hardcore fan base have kept the Disney online community abuzz for the past week or so.

But, in the end, what does this all mean?

(c) Disney

Well, lets step back and take a look at the issue with some perspective: anyone who thinks that this is the last, be-all, end-all home video release (in any existing or future format, DVD or otherwise) of The Lion King is kidding themselves. You know Disney Home Video will be trotting out various editions of this film (and all of their catalog, for that matter) in various formats for as long as they possibly can. (And to be fair, all movie studios will be doing this as well, not just Disney.)

In fact, a moratorium on this title has already been established for January 2004, so it’s not that much of a stretch of the imagination to expect, say, The Ultra-Deluxe 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of The Lion King sometime in 2014. Let’s remember, at the time of the film’s original theatrical release in 1994, who even knew what a DVD was? You know some new-fangled video format is waiting just around the bend, and all the studios will be itching to explore the new medium and, this being show business after all, exploit it.

Yet, this is the so-called “Platinum Edition?, nomenclature that conjures up the image of the “ultimate Disney DVD experience? - a promise that was fulfilled with the first, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but alas, not so much with the subsequent volumes thus far. And while the objections previously mentioned ultimately affect my mixed opinion of this release, there is still much to admire about this set.

As stated in my review of the IMAX/Large Format release, you’ll never see or hear a better version of the film (at least not on DVD for the foreseeable future), although purists may still disagree that no matter what, its still not the original. And despite the opinions of a few knee-jerk naysayers, most of the bonus materials on disc 2 do offer compelling background features (especially of the Broadway stage version, something sorely lacking on last year’s Beauty and the Beast set). Unfortunately, it is arranged in a haphazard and repetitive menu design that is incomprehensively confusing, but more on that later.

And what about “The Morning Report?, the much-ballyhooed “brand new song? created specifically for this DVD? Well, first off, its not a new song; written by original Lion King songwriters Elton John and Tim Rice for the Broadway show, it's been performed on stage since opening night back in 1997. Aside from that little bit of hyperbole, the newly animated sequence is an abbreviated version of the tune (wisely sparing us a warbling Mufasa) that, while fitting somewhat seamlessly into the storyline, really adds nothing to it. (Original Zazu Rowan Atkinson passed on returning to his role, and original young Simba singer Jason Weaver is too old now, so Disney voice fave Jeff Bennett and newcomer Evan Saucedo perform the song.) In fact, as it was basically a character piece for Zazu added to the show to pad out the Playbill, it’s just the type of song that Walt himself would have passed on as unnecessary.

But at least they didn’t choose “The Madness of King Scar? …

Toon Talk Rating: B-

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