The Lion King 4K Blu-ray Review

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The Lion King in 4K with Atmos!

by Casimir Harlow Dec 6, 2018 at 7:54 AM

  • SRP: £19.99

    The Lion King Film Review

    The 1994 animation, The Lion King, remains one of the best films Disney has ever produced, and is an absolute all-time classic.

    Magical and memorable, rip-roaring and heartbreaking, The Lion King efficiently repurposes elements of both Shakespeare's Hamlet and their very own The Jungle Book (scary, scarred cat seizes control of a pack by killing their leader; orphaned and outcast 'cub' is befriended by lovable but goofy animals who sing and dance him around until he's ready to face the bad guy who killed his dad). Indeed, it was even originally titled King of the Jungle.

    These familiar elements are forged into a timeless tale of betrayal, tragedy and revenge, further embellished with some coming-of-age fun and training-for-the-big-fight moments, with maybe a little childhood sweetheart romance thrown in for good measure. Sure, it's not perfect - the powerful emotional impact of its first and last acts is somewhat undone by an arguably necessary but still diluent middle act filled with slapstick comedy characters and playful merriment montages - but it's the Rocky of Disney features; a tremendous underdog tale of epic proportions.

    This is a bonafide top-tier Disney classic.

    A perfectly-chosen voice cast help make the main characters all the more memorable: the unmistakable James Earl Jones (everything from Star Wars to Clear and Present Danger) makes for such a fantastic Mufasa that he's going to be reprising his role in next year's remake; Jeremy Irons is the perfect villain - scarily cunning and psychotically vicious (it's no wonder he went on to land the role of the only other memorable baddie in the Die Hard series after Alan Rickman); and Rowan Atkinson is superb as the loyal but put-upon hornbill, Zazu.

    With stunning animation and innovative techniques like the use of special lenses to give it the style of watching real animals in the savannah, and even an attempt at animated lens flare, The Lion King - which was actually expected to be vastly overshadowed by the then-upcoming Pocahontas - was a masterclass in simple but strong storytelling, well-realised characters and a fantastic score (who would have ever thought that Elton John meets Hans Zimmer would work?), rising up to become one of the House of Mouse's last few greats from that classic '89-'99 era before the turn of the millennium gave the formidable studio another decade-long dry period of lesser works (c.f. '78-'88). This is a bonafide top-tier Disney classic, and a great movie to boot.

    The Lion King 4K Picture

    The Lion King The Lion King 4K Picture
    Notable as the first hand-drawn 'classic' (albeit digitally-rendered) animation from Disney's extensive back-catalogue for the Studio to put out on the format, The Lion King earns itself a lavish 4K video presentation primed on a 2K upscale, which has been used here for this Ultra HD Blu-ray release.

    The disc presents a native 3840 x 2160p resolution image utilising the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.78:1. It uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.

    We reviewed the UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Lion King on a LG 55B7 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with an LG UP970 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

    Even as an upscale, The Lion King continues to reign supreme as demo material.

    Some seven years ago, The Lion King, then already 17 years old, was primed for 3D treatment, and given a conversion that likely even had naysayers sitting up and paying attention to what was an excellent 3D rendition. It was also given a stunning 2D 1080p Blu-ray release, a demo for the format. Indeed, as one of Disney's flagship productions, the film has always received the best treatment, and the same holds true with its return to 2D for this new 4K release which, whilst still a 2K upscale, enjoys all the added colour information, clarity, and pop that the format can afford. Many may balk at the notion, but the 4K release of The Lion King rivals its 3D counterpart for depth and pop even without that added dimension.

    It would be churlish to say that there was a staggering leap up over the 1080 Blu-ray, at least in terms of detail, as there are inherent limitations to both the source format and the 2K upscaling which leave this hand-drawn animation almost negligibly improved in terms of sheer noticeable uptick in detail, but that's not really what defines this release, with the HDR and WCG elements working overtime to render colours and enhanced colour information, shading and enhanced black levels, and sheer visual pop to the at-times kaleidoscopic array of tones on offer (the first act's, almost hallucinatory, song sequence affords a look at some very imaginatively colourful animals, and Scar's hyena-rousing piece involves some eye-searing fiery flourishes). As expected for HDR, greens appear more natural, and reds more vibrant, leaving some stunning savannah sunsets to wow you.

    The presentation is rich and exquisite, with the beautifully nuanced image boasting some natural depth courtesy of 'focal' shots which leave the background slightly out of focus against the core central characters and objects, here afforded crystal clear definition. Even as an upscale, The Lion King continues to reign supreme as demo material.

    The Lion King 4K Sound

    The Lion King The Lion King 4K Sound
    The Lion King also enjoys an upgrade on the aural front with a 3D High Definition immersive audio Dolby Atmos upgrade over its preceding Blu-ray counterpart's already reference DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, and here founded upon an equivalent Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core.

    Again, as with the video, The Lion King has always enjoyed being in the top tier of technical presentations on the audio front, and whilst the Atmos enhancement isn't necessarily a reference example of that specific format, the feature continues to sound absolutely tremendous, promoting devastating loss, grand-scale chaos, fun frolicking and ferocious battles with aplomb.

    It's really the rousing, utterly memorable score that defines this particular audio track.

    Whilst dialogue is key - James Earl Jones' booming low vocals are easily recognisable from his very first spoken word, and Jeremy Irons is almost as distinguishable as the scheming villain - and thus afforded prioritisation with clear and coherent dissemination across the frontal array, and whilst the effects do allow for some hectic moments, not just in terms of large gatherings of animals and individual animal noises but also LFE-enhanced stampedes and blazing fires, it's really the rousing, utterly memorable score (packed with great little song numbers) that defines this particular audio track and really gets your sound setup going.

    Although the Atmos enhancement seldom provides more than a hint of overhead action, it otherwise delivers enough directionality, and enough of an engulfing atmosphere to bring the piece - and your very living room - to life in roaring style.

    The Lion King 4K Extras

    The Lion King The Lion King 4K Extras
    Although there's no additional content featured on the 4K disc itself, the accompanying Blu-ray holds a hearty collection which is hardly the complete set (almost every Lion King release has similarly struggled to live up to its various 'collector's', 'diamond', 'circle of life' and 'ultimate' edition monikers) but still covers all the main bases.

    Covers all the main bases.

    Headlined by an Audio Commentary, we also get a couple of Featurettes - Visualizing a Villain and Inside the Story Room, as well as The Recording Sessions, The Extended Lion King Conversation, and an Extended Scene, some Bloopers and Outtakes, and some Deleted and Alternate Scenes, with a Song Selection option and some Classic Disney Bonus Previews to round out the package.

    The Lion King 4K Verdict

    The Lion King The Lion King 4K Verdict
    With the highly-anticipated remake just around the corner (all the naysayers should watch the powerfully evocative teaser trailer and try and pretend it doesn't get to them), Disney's 1994 classic, The Lion King, makes for a glorious flagship vehicle for their classic content on 4K.

    Hopefully, the first of many Disney classics to be rekindled for the format.

    The 4K Blu-ray video is stunning, adding vibrant life to an already reference image, whilst the Atmos is a nice added touch to the already reference audio, leaving this a great release and hopefully, the first of many Disney classics to be rekindled for the format.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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