The latest of Disney's blockbuster DVD releases, The Lion King, bursts forth this week, certain to add millions to the film's overall box office take -- once Disney's biggest ever (until Finding Nemo dethroned it earlier this summer). In the case of Snow White, the Platinum Series' two-DVD treatment seemed a stunning achievement. On Beauty and the Beast, the hundreds of extras seemed important -- somehow. Now with the third in the series, the word that comes to mind is "overkill." Disney tells us these films are treasured -- but mostly they're treasured by 6-year-olds who play them over and over (and over) again.
One bone thrown to the kiddies is the cute game on Disc Two in which Timon and Pumbaa take you on an African safari. Technically speaking, it's an improvement over past DVD games, which have been too clunky. But the majority of the extras are the usual character-development storyboards, featurettes about the Broadway musical and peeks into the Disney vault, with clips for '50s-era live action wild animal films. In order to wade through it all, you need to be a) a grown-up and b) seriously into this cartoon.
The film transfer looks great, and the soundtrack is optimized for home theater. But unlike Beauty and the Beast, this one just hasn't aged well. The main problem is that other than the opening, "Circle of Life," which scores one of the best openings in any animated feature, the music isn't that good. Elton John and Tim Rice are no Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman, the team that scored Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid.
The Lion King also suffers from not quite knowing what tone to convey. For a G-rated film, it's got some pretty terrifying scenes, and its villain, Skar (voiced deliciously by Jeremy Irons), is perhaps Disney's most cunning and sadistic. Clearly the filmmakers are earnestly trying to up the drama quotient here -- with all the regicide going on, you have to think they were reading a lot of Shakespeare.
But too much drama doesn't blend well with wacky hijinks and wisecracking sidekicks. The effect is jarring -- this film should have been a lot sillier or a lot more serious. And so far, they haven't made many serious cartoons. Hats off to Disney for trying to add more edgy drama into the mix, but the animated format can only take so much.