In the 17 years since The Lion King first roared onto the silver screen, the animated feature—Disney’s 32nd—has cemented its status as one of the greats, enchanting critics and audiences worldwide with its toe-tapping tunes, charismatic characters and universal themes of love, loyalty and leadership. Following its 1994 release, the film garnered two Academy Awards®, three Golden Globe® Awards and three Grammy Awards®, as well as more than 70 additional industry accolades. The Broadway adaptation of the same name is also an international sensation—the Tony® Award-winning show is currently the seventh longest-running in Broadway history and has been seen by over 60 million people worldwide. And we’d be remiss not to mention the similarly charming sequels, The Lion King 1½ and The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, as well as the Diamond-certified movie soundtrack.
The pride of the Studios
What few know, however, is that The Lion King wasn’t always regarded a sure thing. In its early days, it was The Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “B movie,” an experimental project intended to marry animal animation and original storytelling. “The pitch was: we’re telling a story about a lion cub that gets framed for murder,” Don Hahn, producer, The Lion King, says with a chuckle. “It’s a little bit like Hamlet, and we’ve hired Elton John to do the music.” Which, simply put, is why animators at the time “migrated to just about any other place they could go.” But despite early trials and untold doubts, this story clearly has a happy ending. “The people who were working on the movie were passionate about it and saw it as an opportunity to tell a story in a different way,” Don explains. “We did what Disney does best—team together to create something special for our audience.”
The mane event
And Disney, again, has done just that. Beginning September 16, The Lion King leapt back into theaters domestically for a limited time—only now, the movie dazzles in Disney Digital 3D. Robert Neuman, stereoscopic supervisor, Walt Disney Animation Studios, led the charge to convert the film to 3D. “We started by de-archiving the original digital artwork,” Robert explains. “And then, using in-house software that we developed, we were able to create the alternate eye to make a stereoscopic version of it.” The entire process took 60 3D artists approximately four months. According to Mark Henn, the supervising animator for “Young Simba,” the film’s spectacular setting—the colorful and dynamic landscape of Africa—makes 3D a natural fit. “If we had the ability to do this in 1994, we probably would’ve done it that way,” Mark says.
Own the lion’s tale
For those who wish to bring The Lion King home, a Diamond Edition Blu-ray Combo Pack is set for an October 4 release. Not only does the Blu-ray feature pristine high definition and sound, but it comes complete with interactive bonus features that send viewers on a journey inside the Disney Studio—bloopers and all. “We went back to the original recording sessions and found the funniest bloopers,” Don says. “Then we pulled back the original animators who worked on The Lion King and had them animate those bloopers as if the characters made those mistakes. It’s just funny as hell.” This and other added features give audiences a more comprehensive view of how The Lion King came to be. A one-disk DVD edition of The Lion King will also be available for purchase on November 15.
Leaping off the screen
And to coincide with The Lion King Blu-ray release, a Lion King Second Screen app will launch for both iPads and laptops. Using this app, which perfectly syncs with the film, users can bring additional content to life in their hands while enjoying The Lion King. In addition to the flipbooks, sketches and scene scramblers that Disney Second Screen apps users love from the first three available titles, the Lion King Second Screen app comes with a special surprise—social media features. “The Lion King is one of the most beloved films of all time, and for its Blu-ray debut as a Disney Diamond Collection release, it was even more important that we push the boundaries of creativity and give consumers an exceptional in-home experience,” Lori MacPherson, executive vice president, Global Product Management, The Walt Disney Studios, says. “The Second Screen app for The Lion King is our most immersive yet and has evolved to include brand new features, including social functionality via Facebook and Twitter, which allow people to extend their connection with the movie even further.”
Fit for a Lion King
Through the big screen re-release, Blu-ray debut and brand-new Disney Second Screen app, viewers of all ages have a chance to experience The Lion King like never before. “It’s just a fantastic movie to start with,” Robert says about the animated classic. “This is everyone’s chance to see it for the first time, even if they’ve seen it a hundred times.”