Mediocre King

“Long live the king,” says villain Scar to his brother Mufasa, seconds before Mufasa falls to his death. It’s a key moment in The Lion King, both for the emotional toll to come and importance in sending Mufasa’s son Simba away.

That’s where this photo real Lion King goes so wrong. Disney’s masterfully animated original gave Scar a sadistic smirk as he spoke. Evil was present in his eyes. With immense digital power to render individual fur, Scar blankly stares as he dooms his own. He’s expressionless, dormant, and disinterested. There’s no hate to his action.

The music lapses too. It’s vibrant, sure. Hakuna Matata is forever one of Disney’s catchiest jingles. Those pure African themes still jolt too. When visually told though, The Lion King of 2019 offers nothing. The zest in what Hakuna Matata represents is gone. Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa wander the jungle as they sing, a virtual camera running ahead of them minus the colorful splendor, because this is reality. Except the lions talk. So unreal reality.

Lion King feels changed from something organic… into something born of a city life and boardrooms

Contemporary American cinema obsesses with reality. Sometimes, that betters the art. Say, 2005’s War of the Worlds, where being in the alien invasion matters to the story. Lion King is an odd choice for such a treatment. Nothing is gained by spending millions rendering an accurate hyena (other than profit). If anything, the need to stabilize this morality play in such a setting weakens those elements that make Disney’s Lion King dynamic. Without visible emoting, the lines sound as if read from a script, this in spite of the A-class talent (particularly JD McCrary as Young Simba).

In the bonus features, composer Hans Zimmer notes he had a city to record this score, that compared to the village of the original Lion King. That sums up the failing. With so many voices and inputs and computers and executives, personality cannot come forward. Individuality is erased. Lion King feels changed from something organic and formed from the African savanna’s natural beauty into something born of a city life and boardrooms without the experience that comes from a rounded worldview.

As it tells the same story, Lion King retains its thematic might. Simba running from responsibility and accepting his place remains pure. Yet, also ironic – Simba escapes his real world. Meanwhile, this kind-of-but-not-really “live action” do over does everything to pull him back before his time.

Video

Credit to the animation team: They truly made a dazzlingly real set of characters. Even in 4K (from a 2K intermediate) the textural touches survive this level of scrutiny. Fur, feathers, rocks, grass, etc.; each defines to a flawless tier. Seeing Simba up close and picking up on his lifelike eyes never loses its shocking perfection. Medium shots tend to lose this gloss though, the cost of 2K.

Also with the assist is the disc’s HDR pass. Sunlight pours in, enhanced with firm highlights. When Timon and Pumbaa first find Simba, a bloom effect turns blinding, the intended impact. Likewise, shadows at night and at Pride Rock post-Scar takeover wash over the scene. Dominating black levels appear, this at no cost to detail. The impressive touch is how much depth is maintained with only moonlight as a source.

Typically warm color creates a pleasing, attractive baseline. Wide shots of the Pride Land and jungles stretch greenery. Lion fur sustains a gorgeous amber-like tone. A soaking blue brings drama to needed scenes, with a mixture in the finale as fire kicks up during the nighttime battle. The latter allows exceptional HDR thanks to flames backed by those previously mentioned blacks.

Audio

Another Disney bomb. At the peak, during the stampede, the low-end generates a marginal rumble. That’s Lion King at its most potent. Otherwise, it fizzles to nothing, sucking all life from the songs. A booming drum that introduces the title card is a lot of nothing. As with Disney’s other Atmos attempts, the range is gone, reduced to nothing as if set to a night mode.

Things better (a little) in considering the soundstage. Jungles stay alive with ambiance. Lion King’s flying characters pass overhead consistently. During the stampede, without any bass to worry about, hooves slam down in each speaker, enveloping Simba and listener the same. Accurate motion keeps pace with any visual cue.

Extras

On the Blu-ray only, the 53-minute, three-part making of is slickly produced. It runs through multiple stages of Lion King’s production process. Although passive, this is in-depth enough to endure the often commercial tone. Three scene breakdowns include storyboards, pre-vis, and even behind-the-scenes clips to fill in where needed. It’s a unique way of digging in, running 10-minutes. Music videos, song selections, and a conservation PSA close things out.

The Lion King
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
2

Movie

Utterly pointless, The Lion King retells the same story in the same way through distracting photo-realism that stunts any emotion.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 44 full resolution 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: