The Lion King 4K Blu-ray Review: A Visual Feast
The Lion King is perhaps the most revered and influential film of the Disney Renaissance era. Although it’s the rare Disney movie to feature no human characters, it’s an undeniably universal story. As a result, it’s a tough prospect to remake such a classic film. While the technology used to remake The Lion King manages to justify its existence, it’s also relatively creatively inept.
As the primary creative force in the remake of The Lion King, director/producer Jon Favreau brings a deft hand to the filmmaking. Even though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake, he’s undeniably confident in crafting a tone that is identical to the original. However, the only real directorial flourish that Favreau brings to the material is the shift to absolute realism. And whereas the animated version had a certain theatrical quality to it, much of what makes the visual imagery so potent is the lack of realism. Simply put, certain sequences simply don’t hold the same weight when staged realistically.
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Luckily, Favreau’s casting prowess manages to add some interesting new elements to The Lion King remake. Namely, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen absolutely steal the show with their portrayals of Timon and Pumbaa. The duo have great chemistry together, and the energy of the movie completely changes when they’re on screen. While most of the casting is spot-on, it’s the chemistry between Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles that’s the biggest disappointment. Although Glover is fine as the adult version of Simba, it’s obvious that Knowles was cast for her singing ability and not her acting prowess.
Aside from this, The Lion King is an absolute technical marvel. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is a visual feast, offering an uncanny approach to the photo-real documentary-style employed in the film. Similarly, Hans Zimmer’s music is still absolutely breathtaking, offering a more expanded and refined sound to the remake. Yet despite having the same feeling as the original, the film ultimately lacks the emotional impact of its predecessor. The Lion King isn’t necessarily a bad movie, but it does largely feel like an unnecessary one. While it has some merits, it also serves as the epitome of the old adage that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
The Lion King arrives on UHD Blu-ray with a 4K presentation that is absolutely extraordinary on multiple levels. Although the film was captured in 6.5K, the presentation on this disc is rendered using a 2k Digital Intermediate. Despite the lack of a true 4K transfer, the preservation of its 1.85:1 aspect ratio allows the film to take full advantage of the extra “negative” resolution. As a result, the image quality on this disc is insanely detailed, especially in close-ups and shots that feature extreme depth of field. Sharpness is also unparalleled – at least in the capabilities of the digital medium used to make the film.
Even though its 1080p counterpart holds its own, the HDR 10 pass in this 4K transfer adds an immense amount of dynamic range to the visuals. In particular, contrast sees the greatest improvement, with digital highlights and shadows that are crisp, distinct, and – most importantly – über-realistic. Similarly, textures are magnificent in this presentation, especially in the digital environments. Thankfully, there are no encoding issues to be found. Although a native 4K transfer would have been appreciated, this disc provides a reference-quality video presentation from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
The audio mix for the home video release of The Lion King arrives via a Dolby Atmos sound mix. Although the mix naturally reverts to a 7.1 mix for those without the setup, the track is formidable nevertheless. It seems to be a recurring issue with recent Disney releases, but this track unsurprisingly requires slight volume calibration. While it’s not as egregious as its predecessors, pump up the volume by a few decibels to get the proper sonic experience.
Otherwise, channel separation is excellent, with environmental ambience being a highlight. Dialogue levels are appropriate, but the music obviously takes precedence. The presentation of the music is easily the highlight of this track; it’s still a transcendent experience. While subwoofer use is limited, its low-end presence is excellent when active. Clarity and positioning are solid, making for a track that contains a great deal of finesse but lacks true heft.
If it weren’t for the requisite volume calibration and some minor compression issues, this would be an outstanding sound mix. Instead, it remains satisfactory at best.
The Special Features
The supplemental material in this home video release of The Lion King is hit-and-miss. The director’s commentary, extended featurettes, and scene breakdowns provide a fascinating look at the filmmaking process used to make it. On the flip side, the sing-along mode, music videos, and isolated song selections seem like they only exist to annoy the parents of small children. Although the behind the scenes look into the making the film is appreciated, a more thorough feature-length documentary would have been more appropriate in this instance.
Introduction by Director Jon Favreau (1:14; 1080p): A standard intro from Favreau. It quickly runs through the digital filmmaking process used to bring the film to life.
Audio Commentary: Favreau delivers an interesting solo commentary track on this release. In addition to the requisite reasoning for remaking the classic animated film, the director also explores all avenues of the digital filmmaking process. Aside from digging deeper into the technical elements, he also covers the voice cast, differences from the original, and much more. This track is sure to dazzle those who are looking to learn more about the remake. At the same time, it’s probably too technical for the average viewer.
Sing-Along With the Movie: As the title implies, a sing-along version of the movie with lyrics over the musical numbers.
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The Journey To The Lion King (1080p): A three-part feature that explores the making of the film. At almost an hour, this trio of extended featurettes illuminates several different aspects of The Lion King. The first discusses the music of the film, but it mostly showcases a look inside the voice-over sessions. The second explores the digital filmmaking process pioneered for this movie, including the use of VR. It also shows the workflow used on the project, along with a look inside how the digital characters and sets were created. The third and final piece focuses on how the filmmakers did their best to live up to the legacy of the original and honor it in the remake.
- The Music (13:36)
- The Magic (21:01)
- The Timeless Tale (18:47)
More to Be Scene (1080p): A series of interesting scene breakdowns. They feature a mix of VFX progression reels, BTS footage, and storyboards, which are interspersed between clips of finished footage. This is a cool way to show the progression of the film.
- “Circle of Life” (4:08)
- “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” (3:43)
- “Hakuna Matata” (2:39)
Music Videos (1080p): A duo of music videos used to promote the film’s theatrical campaign.
- “Spirit” by Beyoncé (4:28)
- “Never too Late” by Elton John (4:08)
Song Selection (1080p): All of the film’s musical numbers collected in one place.
- “Circle of Life” (4:12)
- “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” (3:59)
- “Be Prepared” (2:10)
- “Hakuna Matata” (4:45)
- “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (1:31)
- “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (3:07)
- “Spirit” (2:13)
- “Never Too Late” (4:34)
Protect the Pride (3:02; 1080p): A short promotional piece for an initiative aimed at preserving Africa’s lion population.
The Lion King – Hear the Women Roar (1:33; 1080p): A short piece that pays lip service to the expanded female presence in the film.
Pride Lands Pedia (3:29; 1080p): A silly featurette that quickly runs through some of the animals that appear in the film, such as Rafiki.
Although The Lion King remake is undoubtedly a digital marvel, it’s fairly inept on a storytelling level. While the visual presentation is reference-quality, the sound mix is average at best. Similarly, the supplemental material on this disc is both intriguing and disappointing at the same time. This release from Buena Vista Home Entertainment comes Recommended — but mainly for the film’s technical accomplishments alone.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5