Release Date(s)2019 (October 22, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures/Fairview Entertainment (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
The Lion King, which stars an impressive array of voice talent and features incredible photo-realism in the depiction of its characters, is neither a cartoon nor a live-action film. Rather, it’s an amazing rendering of life-like creatures with computer-generated imagery that enables the animals to perform exactly as scripted. Disney has had great success re-making its more recent cartoon classics; Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Jungle Book have already made their way to the big screen, and The Little Mermaid and Mulan will soon join them.
The story in The Lion King is the same as the 1994 animated film. Simba (JD McCrary), a lion cub, is born to King Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) and presented to the animals to celebrate their future king. But the cub’s arrival means that Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother and former heir to the throne, will have to be one of Simba’s subjects. Scar plots and schemes, waiting for his opportunity to get rid of both Mufasa and Simba to clear his path to the throne. He forms an alliance with a pack of hyenas and tricks Mufasa into a trap, but his attempt to kill Simba fails and the young cub escapes.
During his time away from the pride, Simba meets warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner), an easygoing duo who advise adult Simba (Donald Glover) to follow the philosophy of Hakuna Matata—forgetting his troubled past and living in the present. Simba goes along with this until childhood pal Nala (Beyonce) finds him and urges him to return to the pride to challenge Scar, who has ruled through intimidation and fear, desolating the region.
There is a sense of depth as the animals move through their assorted environments. This is reminiscent of Disney’s pioneering work with the multi-plane camera on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs back in 1937, in which animation cels were separated on a large stand and filmed from above to create a composite image. There are even digital adjustments to help create a slightly out-of-focus foreground, giving the impression that the scene was filmed with a traditional motion picture camera. The CGI lions move realistically, their musculature visible even as they plunk down to rest, and their manes gently blowing in the breeze. Their eyes are expressive and their fur is delineated hair by hair rather than as a yellow-brown patch. Their enormous paws are especially well-rendered, with claws prominent and bared in fight scenes. Simba as a cub is adorable, meant to elicit “Awwwws” from viewers, like a cuddly kitten/teddy bear combination. Mufasa and the older Simba are rendered majestically, while Scar looks scraggly, with a knotted mane and a thinner body. The toucan Zazu (John Oliver), Pumbaa, Timon, and the baboon Rafiki (John Kani) are more stylized and their actions stray further from how their real-life counterparts would act.
There are even digital adjustments to help create a slightly out-of-focus foreground, giving the impression that the scene was filmed with a traditional motion picture camera. The CGI lions move realistically, their musculature visible even as they plunk down to rest, and their manes gently blowing in the breeze. Their eyes are expressive and their fur is delineated hair by hair rather than as a yellow-brown patch. Their enormous paws are especially well-rendered, with claws prominent and bared in fight scenes. Simba as a cub is adorable, meant to elicit “Awwwws” from viewers, like a cuddly kitten/teddy bear combination.
Mufasa and the older Simba are rendered majestically, while Scar looks scraggly, with a knotted mane and a thinner body. The toucan Zazu (John Oliver), Pumbaa, Timon, and the baboon Rafiki (John Kani) are more stylized and their actions stray further from how their real-life counterparts would act.
Directed by Jon Favreau, The Lion King offers little new in terms of storytelling. It follows the animated version closely, with Pumbaa and Timon once again providing comic relief in a tale that owes much to Disney’s own Bambi and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Along with the CGI artistry, voice talent, and a screenplay devoted to developing characters, the animals are brought to life well.
Scenes that stand out include the opener, when Rafiki holds the newborn Simba up in the air on Pride Rock for all of the animals in the kingdom to pay homage as Circle of Life plays on the soundtrack. Equally impressive are the wildebeest stampede and the final battle between Scar and Simba. Scar ruling over a ruined kingdom, supported and protected by scheming hyenas, has political implications today that weren’t present in the original. With fires currently destroying vast swaths of the Amazon, the underlying ecological theme is certainly timely.
Rated PG, The Lion King is also reminiscent of Disney’s True Life Adventures from the 1950s, a series of live-action movies focusing on animals well before Animal Planet and PBS specials made such films TV staples. The Lion King often has a similar feel, with its beautiful depictions of the African savanna, glorious sunsets, and animals in their natural habitat. Overall, the realism forms more of a connection with the viewer than the original animation.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The digital artists have rendered some beautiful images. The Circle of Life sequence that opens the film is nothing less than spectacular, with a simulated drone shot moving in and up to Pride Rock, where newborn Simba’s birth is celebrated by the animal kingdom. The panoply of colors on the animals plus the lush African landscape are impressive. When Scar is seen with his hyena cohorts, the scenes are darker, in keeping with their tyrannical domination over the pride. Deep shadows and a clouded sky add drama. When we see Simba frolicking as a cub, the lighting is bright and sun-dappled grasses wave gently in the breeze. Mufasa is filmed mostly from a low angle, emphasizing his majesty as the king of the pride. The fire in the finale has bright cinders flying about, forming a blazing conflagration as a backdrop to the climactic confrontation between Simba and Scar. Twenty-one chapters allow for quick and easy access to scenes.
Audio is English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio and 2.0 Descriptive Audio. There are French and Spanish language track options in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include French, Spanish, and English for the hard of hearing. Songs dominate, with the voice actors inhabiting their photorealistic counterparts. Vocals and music are nicely balanced so that lyrics are always in the forefront. Sound effects include lion roars, elephants trumpeting, a rushing waterfall, and a thundering wildebeest stampede. These are so realistic that it’s possible to forget momentarily that we’re looking at visuals and hearing sounds created in a movie studio, without a camera.
Bonus features on the Multi-Screen Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include director’s audio commentary, sing-along song selections, the featurette The Journey to The Lion King, storyboard and behind-the-scenes footage of 3 musical sequences, 2 music videos, a look at the teaming of Disney with the Lion Recovery Fund, and 3 Sneak Peek previews. A Digital Code on a paper insert is also included.
Audio Commentary – Director Jon Favreau states that the opening sunrise shot is the only photographed shot of the approximately 1,400 shots in the film. The animals and environments are digitally created. Drones were used to help conceive the look of the Circle of Life sequence. The creative team went to “great efforts” to honor the original animated movie. The production team studied several BBC documentaries to observe how animals were photographed. This helped the artists bring emotion to the characters. Simulated helicopter and crane shots were accomplished with a live action film crew and virtual camera work. A crane, in particular, was used to capture the movement of an actual camera. Favreau discusses the enduring popularity of The Lion King, from the original film through to the Broadway show and the remake. He notes how difficult it was to make the animals’ singing look realistic, and singled out waterfalls as especially problematic to render realistically in digital form. The film had to balance the emotional and comical moments. Hans Zimmer, the orchestra, and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel collaborated to bring the film to life. The Lion King offers lessons about what’s “out there in the real world.”
The Journey to The Lion King – This lengthy featurette includes cast members and key crew personnel weighing in on their contributions to the movie and their personal connections to the original animated feature. The actors speak about being true to the original yet adding their own touches to characterization. Actors are shown recording the voices of the various characters. The actors include JD McCrary, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and John Oliver. Rogen discusses recording a single line over and over until the director was happy. Director Jon Favreau wanted to have actors record dialogue together as much as possible. A new song, Never Too Late, was written for the movie by Elton John. According to Favreau, “Themes are as relevant today as when the film was first conceived.” The movie deals with animals in a “photorealistic” way. The process began with the script and changes to it, conceptual digital drawings, animatics, and the building of digital environments. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel discusses combining traditional film techniques with virtual reality. The original film was frequently used for reference. A few scenes from the original are shown, in split screen, next to corresponding scenes from the new film.
More to Be Scene – Three major musical numbers are shown in various stages of development.
- Circle of Life – Storyboards and drawings are juxtaposed with recording session footage and scenes from the final film.
- I Just Can’t Wait to Be King – Young JD McCrary records Simba’s song, with the scene depicted in various stages of development.
- Hakuna Matata – Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner record the number and the actual scene is shown.
Music Videos – Two music videos are included:
- Spirit, performed by Beyonce
- Never Too Late, performed by Elton John
Song Selections – Lyrics to songs are shown at the bottom of the screen.
- Circle of Life
- I Just Can’t Wait to Be King
- Be Prepared
- Hakuna Matata
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight
- Can You Feel the Love Tonight
- Never Too Late
Protect the Pride – This short film tells how the Disney Corporation teams with the Lion Recovery Fund to foster lion conservation.
Sneak Peeks – Three trailers for Disney movies are included:
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
– Dennis Seuling