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His Majesty Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) rules the African Prideland with might and strength but his weak and wicked brother Scar (voice of Jeremy Irons) is jealous. When all creatures great and small hail the birth of Simba, son of Mufasa, Scar slips further down the totem pole of power and hatches a hideous scheme to usurp the throne. After promising three mangy hyenas all the food they can eat, they inflame a wildebeest stampede that ends in tragedy. Rescued at death’s door on the desert floor by Timon, a friendly meerkat and Pumbaa, a jovial warthog, Simba (adult voice by Matthew Broderick) thrives in a jungle paradise but a chance reunion with Nala, the lioness to which Simba is betrothed, impels Simba to return to his homeland, which has been ravaged by Scar’s neglect. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Lion King is a big film…Disney’s greatest hit; the highest grossing animated feature; a record-breaking video and the tenth biggest box office smash of all time. Now it’s even bigger: bigger than Ben Hur ever was and blown-up beyond its kiddie-pleasing proportions for re-release on large format screens. 

It’s been eight years since The Lion King first roared into the hearts of man, woman and child, as critics clamored to find some deep, dark and sinister symbolism behind the Shakespeare-influenced tale. The gay lobby went all sniffy over the effeminate Scar (voiced with silky menace by Jeremy Irons) and they carped over how there were no lionesses in the evil one’s heart. The nitpickers labeled it “sexist, racist and homophobic” but the big cat was lapped up by the little ones, all agog in their wide-eyed innocence as an army of goose-stepping hyenas march in the shadow of der fuehrer Scar. And they probably didn’t notice the native American animals that live happily in Africa and a meerkat that behaves more like an alley cat. 

As usual, the villain has more color and character in a single claw than the stentorian Mufasa has in his mane to tail; Simba is a bore when he vacillates over his return to Prideland (is there ever any doubt that he will?) and in Pumbaa, the film-makers pander to the juvenile fascination with farting. Just about every character is interchangeable with one in Star Wars, which to me, smacks of calculation and the (Oscar winning) songs, by Tim Rice and Elton John are so forgettable…go on, hum a few bars now! Frankly, I felt more raw emotion in the more recent Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron and the sadly neglected The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) was more fun. Of course, you can’t argue with the Lion King’s roaring success, but for some, bigger doesn’t make it better. 

Special Features reviewed by Craig Miller:
In true DVD fashion, the producers have tried to appeal to the largest possible audience for this release with both the young ones and adults catered for with a mix of varying extras. Unfortunately, what seems to be a great selection of well thought out and laid out extras, soon becomes a tedious miss-mash of one to five-minute featurettes that are really pretty vague and never get to the heart of anything. One of the biggest problems is the set-up of the disc. There just seems to be as many headings, menus and sub-menus to navigate around as there are features, so you spend most of your time zipping through boring menus to reach the all too brief extras. Very frustrating. 

The commentary from directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, and producer Dan Hahn, is worth a listen for those who enjoy the technical and production sides of filmmaking, and is only available on the original edit of the film. If you are wondering about the extended version, it is essentially just one additional scene (a musical number), cut into the film, giving it an extra minute in runtime. 

There are numerous games and music videos throughout both discs which the kids will no doubt find entertaining, and an enjoyable virtual safari with two of the film’s main characters driving and boating you through a variety of African adventures.

Certainly not the best package assembled, (but far from the worst), the appeal of this 2 disc set will lie in the film itself which has been wonderfully transferred to DVD and looks as close to a million bucks as you are going to get.

Published February 26, 2004

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(US, 1994)

CAST: (voices of) Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson. Whoopi Goldberg

DIRECTOR: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

SCRIPT: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.66:1 widescreen, 16:9 enhanced, DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: Special extended version of the film, audio commentary, three games, deleted scenes and abandoned concepts, the making of morning report featurette, music videos, sing-a-long tack. Disc 2: The Story – three featurettes, The Film – seven featurettes, Animals – six featurettes, The Music – seven featurettes, Stage – five featurettes, music videos, virtual safari, Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America featurette series and galleries.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 25, 2004

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