How's the Movie?
Having practically worn out a VHS of it growing up, I honestly wasn't sure that The Lion King would hold up for me as an adult. I feared nostalgia would have colored all my love for the film and that ultimately it would be a good, but unremarkable piece of Disney Animation.
Sometimes I think stupid things.
The Lion King is still an unbridled delight. There's no nostalgia tint, there, it's just an exceptional animated film. The best Disney has ever done? Of course not, but it's got memorable characters, an interesting, albeit broad, story, great voice actors and a dark streak that's both brave and menacing. Plus, ya' know, it's got JTT and a bunch of great songs. But don't take my word that The Lion King is just as delightful in 2011 as it was in 1994, let's look at the stats:
IMDB: 8.3, #120 on the Top 250 of all Time
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% Fresh with both critics and audience members
Metacritic: 83 / 100
What are the vital stats on the disc?
Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Edition: Diamond Edition (A 3D Blu-ray is also available)
Number of Discs: 2 (1 Blu-ray, 1 DVD)
Digital Copy: No
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
How does it look and sound?
The crystalline picture quality here isn't exactly surprising considering Disney has repeatedly blown minds with the transfers of its vintage animated film, but just because they've proven capable in the past that doesn't mean we should scoff the accomplishment here. Frankly, it's one of the best looking Blu-rays of the year and if you told me the film had been animated in 2010 and not 1994, I wouldn't bat an eyelash of disbelief.
The Lion King also sounds immaculate. From the opening tune to the sounds of the jungle to Pumba's fart solo, it's a very generous DTS-HD Master mix that will make you fall in love with the spirit of the movie all over again.
Anything exclusive to the Blu-ray?
Of course, this is the first time Disney has pulled The Lion King out of its infamous vault since 2003, and they've created a sizeable and worthwhile set of new features to go with it. The best stuff is hidden under the Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition menu (could it have a more labored and cryptic title?):
Pride of The Lion King (38 minutes) - A truly wonderful retrospective that unites all the surviving principal talents that brought The Lion King, both the movie and the stage production, to life. If you're a Disney geek like I am, the Blu-ray is worth the purchase price for this alone. In it you'll hear about how directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff basically had to assemble their creative team of animators by begging them to leave the much more alluring Pocahontas, you'll see how it impacted all of their lives, and you'll get a solid grasp on much of a beloved phenomenon this little film went on to become. It's a well-shot, well-paced documentary that's spritely and informative, my only complaint being that they couldn't get JTT to go in front of cameras for it.
The Lion King: A Memoir by Don Hahn (20 minutes) - Anyone who has seen producer Don Hahn's irresistible documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty will already have a feel for how much love Disney's resident historian has for this era and the people who made these movies possible. It's not a terribly long or exhaustive segment, and it will probably just make you want to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty immediately after, but it's a nice look at how the film came together back in the early '90s.
There are some other BD-exclusive extras as well, including about 20 minutes of deleted/alternate/"blooper" scenes, though none of these are fully rendered and it's pretty clear why they never wound up being developed further beyond their rough states. There's also Disney's Second Screen feature, which I've yet to ever find the need to use, but it will allow you to simultaneously watch the film on your TV as well as a connected device. An awkward to navigate interactive gallery full of concept art, storyboards and more rounds out the exclusive content. It really is a treasure trove if you're into seeing how the art evolves, but unless you're a hound for that stuff, you're probably not going to spend an hour going through all of the images here (there are a ton).
What about non-exclusive features?
Audio Commentary - A feature-length track by directors Allers and Minkoff, as well as producer Hahn. It's as entertaining and lively as their making-of materials, covering everything from casting to animation techniques. Obviously kids won't get any use out of it, but adults and Disney-philes will learn plenty in the process.
Disney's Virtual Vault (about an hour in total) - This is a hodgepodge of special features all presented in Standard Definition via BD Live (yes, that means they are not actually on the disc), which is unfortunate because there is unique material here that isn't covered in the HD content (tons of storyboard materials), but the presentation of it all is such a noticeable downgrade from the Pride of the Lion King featurette, that most people won't fully explore it (or even be able to, if they don't have an Internet-connected player).
Disney's Sing Along Mode - A subtitle track with all the lyrics to the song, which is of course redundant because we all already know them by heart.
The only Blu-ray collection that is considered complete without a copy of The Lion King Diamond Edition Blu-ray in it is one that belongs to a serial killer. And even then I think the overwhelming heart of this movie - both what's on the screen and what we can now see went on behind the scenes - would probably win over most psychopaths. It's just that good.
Of course, that's not exactly the endorsement a movie like this deserves, so let's cut the fluff and lay it out flat: Buy this Blu-ray. The Lion King has matured wonderfully and Disney has delivered a worthy disc, even if it needs more JTT.