4YE Review: The Lion King On Blu-ray Showcases Cutting-Edge Tech But Doesn’t Capture The Animated Classic’s Magic

Credit: Disney

At the 2017 D23 Expo, Director Jon Favreau presented the first-ever look at the remake of The Lion King. The short reel showed stunning realistic animation set to “Circle of Life”. Chills ran through the entire audience and some people were even brought to tears. Now the film will be available to own on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 22 (it became available on Digital and Movies Anywhere on Oct. 11).

The Lion King has a fresh new look thanks to pioneering filmmaking techniques but it’s the same story we all know and love. The young prince of the pride, Simba, looks forward to the day he will be a king like his father, King Mufasa. But lurking in the shadows is Uncle Scar, Mufasa’s resentful brother, who teams up with hyenas to take Pride Rock. Scar’s plan leads to Simba’s exile, during which the young lion meets new friends and re-discovers his strength and courage. The all-star cast includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon.

There’s no question that Disney has created something special with The Lion King. The photorealistic animals are clear and gorgeously rendered to the point that sometimes you truly do forget you’re watching an animated film, not a documentary. But therein also lies one of The Lion King’s problems. The animals are so realistic that playful, funny scenes from the classic film, such as Scar trying to eat Zazu, suddenly seem far more menacing and upsetting. 

Strangely, the animation also falls a bit short. It doesn’t capture the nuances of animal emotions and behaviors. Anyone who has seen a Planet Earth special or spent time with a cat or dog knows animals have a range of expressions. The Lion King doesn’t bring that to life. The lions are almost always stone-faced, except when they’re angry. 

What saves The Lion King over and over is the incredible, iconic music. Despite my occasional qualms about the photorealistic animation, I still had chills during “Circle of Life”. I sobbed throughout Mufasa’s death scene and teared up again when Simba triumphantly roars on Pride Rock. It almost seems unfair to attribute these emotions to the remake when really it’s the childhood memories that are causing such a reaction. But the tears and the chills happened all the same and there’s no denying it.

Credit: Glen Wilson/Disney

The fantastic bonus features are almost better than the film itself. The three-part documentary on making the film, “The Journey to ‘The Lion King’”, drives home the ingenuity and passion of everyone involved in the project. Favreau and the production team used cutting-edge technology to create the animals and environments. The director also made every attempt to include the voice actors in the production by creating something he called Black Box Theater (pictured above). Here, the actors could actually act out their scenes with one another, allowing Favreau and the animators to see mannerisms and movements that informed the look of the final film.

Composer Hans Zimmer spoke about the amazing opportunity to recreate one of the most recognizable scores in cinema history while Donald Glover freaked out a little over singing with Beyoncé (who wouldn’t?!). Another cool extra is “More to Be Scene,” which shows layer-by-layer progressions of some of the film’s biggest moments. The work and thought that went into the final film are without a doubt tremendous. See a full list of bonus features below.

The Lion King will be available as an Ultimate Collector’s Edition (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Code), a Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Code) and a single DVD on October 22.


Full List of Bonus Features:

  • The Journey to “The Lion King”
    • The Music – Go inside the studio with the cast and crew as they work to honor and elevate The Lion King’s beloved music.
    • The Magic – Discover how the filmmakers blended the traditional filmmaking techniques with virtual reality technology to create amazing movie magic.
    • The Timeless Tale – Filmmakers and cast reflect on the story that has moved generations and share how this Lion King carries a proud legacy forward.
  • More to Be Scene – Recording studio and layer-by-layer progressions of some of most iconic moments in “The Lion King.”
    • “Circle of Life” – Peel back the layers of effects and go behind the scenes of this iconic musical moment from the film
    • “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” – See all the effects, talent and fun that went into creating this vibrant version of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” for the movie
    • “Hakuna Matata” – Join Donald Glover (Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and Billy Eichner (Timon) in the studio for the making of this memorable scene.
  • Music Videos
    • “Never Too Late” (lyric video) by Elton John
    • “Spirit” performed by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
  • Filmmaker Introduction
  • Audio Commentary – By Director Jon Favreau.
  • Song Selection
    • “Circle of Life”
    • “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”
    • “Be Prepared”
    • “Hakuna Matata”
    • “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
    • “Spirit”
    • “Never Too Late”
  • Protect the Pride –Director Jon Favreau, the Lion Recovery Fund and conservationists highlight efforts to protect the majestic lions and their home.
Stephanie Coats