Disney has a history of producing some quite spectacular transfers for Blu-ray and the The Lion King is no exception. This new 3D Blu-ray comes with a 1080p MVC encode, framed at 1.78:1 and the transfer renders the original hand-drawn cell animation with stunning clarity. These days we are so familiar with the clinical detail of modern computer generated animation that we can forget the artistry that goes into its creation. Since The Lion King was made in 1994 it was one of the last big hand drawn animated features before Toy Story changed the game the following year. Thanks to Disney’s careful and immaculate restoration, the original cell animation just shines on this disc. The images are absolutely superb and whilst they don’t have the intricate shading of modern computer animated films, they retain a more organic and layered effect. When the film was originally made, the animators used multiple layers to create a sense of depth and these multiple layers were composited into a single 2D image. These layers had to be painstakingly converted to 3D, so each individual layer was given a sense of dimensionality using a depth map and then the images were re-composited into 3D. Since some of the scenes had over a 100 layers, the process was both time consuming and expensive but on this 3D Blu-ray of The Lion King the results speak for themselves.
The resulting 3D images have a wonderful sense of depth and the resulting visual experience is both immersive and emotionally rewarding. Thanks to the use of a conservative depth budget the imagery almost always takes place in a comfortable positive parallax viewing zone, with very few out-of-the-screen (negative parallax) moments. From the opening scene as the animals congregate around Pride Rock the sense of added depth is readily apparent. Although the scene was obviously not originally conceived for the 3D, the nature of 2D storytelling is such that the images lend themselves to the 3D format. The perception of depth between the animals is amazing and the the rocks and grass of the savannah are revealed with surprising clarity. The swooping aerial shots as Zazu flies up to meet the King almost look as though they were composed for 3D and provide an amazing sense of depth. The backgrounds are wonderfully nuanced, with plenty of detail and vibrancy. As you would expect from an animated feature the colours are bold and vivid, whilst the blacks are deep and solid. The textures of the hand animated backgrounds and foreground objects are beautifully rendered, even in the darkest scenes. The 3D remains effective throughout, with each layer of depth perfectly presented and even during difficult scenes such as the previously mentioned stampede sequence the added dimension is impressive. There are occasional instances of crosstalk but these are rare and only visible during high contrast scenes and the transfer is free of any other banding or compression artefacts. The 3D Blu-ray of The Lion King offers a beautifully mastered and wonderfully layered 3D experience that is one of the most impressive and immersive that we have seen to date.
As with their picture transfers, Disney have always strived to present the best audio soundtracks on their releases. On DVD releases Disney included their ‘Enhanced Home Theatre Mix’ which was optimised for the home theatre environment. These 5.1-channel soundtracks were re-mixed to include greater spatial presence and more low-end content than the original theatrical mix. They also re-equalised the soundtrack to adjust for the X-Curve compensation used in movie theatres which doesn’t apply to smaller rooms. The resulting soundtracks sounded great in a home theatre environment but times have changed and now on the Blu-ray of The Lion King, Disney is able to offer a high definition lossless soundtrack.
The soundtrack on the 3D Blu-ray of The Lion King is a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel lossless soundtrack that has been optimised for the home theatre environment and once again the results are spectacular. As is always the case with animation the dialogue is recorded ADR and so it is important that it is spatially integrated into the rest of the sound mix. The Lion King soundtrack achieves this beautifully with the dialogue always clear and precisely located but seamlessly integrated into the rest of the mix. The atmospheric effects and other sound effects are also perfectly mixed into the soundtrack and are steered around the soundfield to produce an immersive experience that compliments the visuals. The songs and the musical score are also wonderfully reproduced and never swamp the overall mix. The soundtrack has a very impressive dynamic range and plenty of energetic deep bass, especially during set pieces like the wildebeest stampede. The surrounds are also very active and overall the soundfield is as three dimensional as the images themselves and despite the remix it always stays faithful to the original content. The Lion King boasts an absolutely reference soundtrack that perfectly compliments both the animation, the 3D and the story itself.
The 3D Blu-ray of The Lion King reviewed here is the US region free 4 disc Diamond Edition, in which Disc 1 is the 3D Blu-ray, Disc 2 is the 2D Blu-ray, Disc 3 is the DVD and Disc 4 is a Digital Copy. The extras are all on the 2D Blu-ray, although The Lion King: A Memoir with Don Hahn also appears on the DVD in standard definition. Since the extras are identical to the 2D Blu-ray covered by Alan Paterson, here is a breakdown of the special features taken from his review:
- Audio Commentary - Directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff and Producer Don Hahn go out of their way to describe the work behind the animation of The Lion King. We hear about the complexity of some shots and what it took to bring them to the screen. They also tell us about the voice casting which led to some script changes due to their style of delivery and ethnicity. It’s also amusing to discover some gags that didn’t quite make it to the final film. This is a very informative and mostly lively commentary track.
- Disney’s Virtual Vault - This is essentially an archive of all the extras that appeared on the previous DVD release. There is a whole host of interesting little featurettes that are presented using a media player, so they play quite small on the screen. The titles are self explanatory but they’re fun to watch and include: The Making of The Morning Report, Deleted Scenes, Musical Journey, Stage Journey, Storyboard Film Comparison and Early Concepts.
- Singalong Mode - Your chance to be the Karaoke star of the year with on screen lyrics for the musical numbers.
- The Morning Report: Extended Scene (HD, 02:30) - This scene is made somewhat strange by the addition of music and ultimately makes you glad they didn’t use it in the final film.
- Interactive Blu-ray Gallery - Here you get a look at character designs, visual development, storyboards, backgrounds and layouts. You also get some idea of what the film might have looked like, had certain tasteful creative decisions not been taken.
- Pride of The Lion King (HD, 38:06) - This is basically a reunion of the people who made the film. They discuss the internal politics and they talk about the first drafts which were very different to the final version. It’s full of fascinating behind the scenes information.
- The Lion King: A Memoir with Don Hahn (HD, 19:40) - This feature involves producer Don Hahn reminiscing about the making of the film and it contains 1994 vintage behind the scenes footage.
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes (HD, 14:33) - Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff introduce a collection of five scenes that don’t quite work – including a Mufasa song and most disturbing of all, Scar discussing reproduction. These were definitely best left on the cutting room floor.
- Bloopers and Out-takes (HD, 03:44) - Some new (fairly rough) animation has been produced to match up with original fluffed voice tracks. They’re really fake bloopers but some are amusing while others seem quite desperate to get a laugh and overall it seems like a lot of effort for very little reward.
- Disney Second Screen - If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind watching a movie with various distractions, then you can download an app for the iPad or a computer and watch the movie together with extra content like storyboards.
This new four disc set of The Lion King includes both the 2D and 3D versions on separate Blu-rays, which provides an opportunity to see the film in superb quality, no matter what format you choose. The Lion King itself has lost none of its charm and the artistry used in its creation is evident in every frame. There is a pleasure to be had from watching hand drawn animation that offers a greater level of emotion and a more organic experience than today’s rather sterile computer generated images. The voice cast is universally excellent and the songs are memorable and catchy thanks to the efforts of Elton John and Tim Rice. Despite claims that the plot was inspired by Hamlet, the story is more reminiscent of Bambi and both films share an early death that carries a huge emotional kick and sets the plot in motion. Whilst the story itself is relatively thin, the characters are so enjoyable and well executed that you find yourself being irresistibly drawn towards the inevitable conclusion. The Lion King is rightly regarded as a classic and remains a wonderful viewing experience for children of all ages.
This new 3D Blu-ray of The Lion King is an incredibly impressive and hugely enjoyable 3D experiences. The care and attention that Disney have lavished on both the transfer and the conversion has really paid dividends, resulting in a truly immersive 3D experience. However more importantly, the additional depth has been used in a creative way to enhance both the storytelling and the emotional impact. The 3D transfer is almost pristine, with only a few minor artefacts that never detract from the overall experience. Of course the image is only half the story and in the audio department the disc also delivers with a fully immersive 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The dialogue, music and sound effects are expertly combined to create a sound field that perfectly matches the visuals, creating an overall experience that draws you into the film. The combination of the stunning 3D visuals and the dynamic and engaging score result in one of the best and most immersive 3D experiences to date. Once you add in the comprehensive and largely entertaining collection of extras, along with a DVD and a digital copy, The Lion King becomes one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. In a word... unmissable!
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