In terms of the audio and video, there is no change between this release and the last time that The Lion King was released on Blu-ray, so don’t expect a newly remastered version. It is an upgrade from DVD or VHS, but not the last Blu-ray that was put out.
Usually when I am looking over the bonus features for titles in the Walt Disney Signature Collection there is a recurring trend. With Pinocchio and Bambi, there was nothing extremely unique or brand new with the exception of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts and a featurette on Tyrus Wong. However, this is not the case for The Lion King, and I think a lot of that can be credited to the fact that the filmmakers and cast are still alive and working, allowing for the creation of new bonus material and the discovery of not-often-seen footage. While The Lion King has had way more bonus features in past releases, this reissue still manages to add some genuinely good behind-the-scenes shorts to the pot. Let's take a look at the bonus features on this disc.
- Visualizing a Villain - This may be one of the strangest bonus features I've ever seen on a Disney release, and the best way I can describe it is completely unnecessary along the same lines as music videos from Disney Channel stars. This piece showcases artist David Garibaldi painting a portrait of Scar, while blending live dancers with his painting and clips from the "Be Prepared" sequence. I see the idea behind the short, but it would make more sense to show the artist working then cutting away to clips from the movie you can easily just watch or shots of dancers who add absolutely nothing to the feature. Skip it.
- The Recording Sessions - When voice actors are brought in to read their lines for an animated film, a lot of times their entire performance is filmed for archives and so the artists can use transpose their gestures and body language into the characters they are voicing. Thankfully this was done on The Lion King, and this bonus feature showcases old footage from the actors reciting their dialogue in the recording booth alongside the finished product. This is more or less for the big animation nerds out there, but it is definitely worth a watch, especially for the tiny bit of insight from directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff in the introduction.
- Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation - When I was looking at the special features on this release, I thought for sure this was going to stand out as the best new feature offered. Over 20 years later after working on The Lion King, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane (both of whom starred in The Producers on Broadway together) sat down at Sardi's and had a small dialogue about their time working on the movie. The main takeaway is that both working actors have had a full and busy life since their time spent on The Lion King and remember small bits and pieces of making it, but overall they don't have much insight to offer. It's disappointing, because I'm sure other members of the cast could've been apart of this feature and made it more entertaining. After this year's D23 Expo, it is clear the Whoopi Goldberg would've been perfect for this conversation.
- Inside the Story Room - I don't want to oversell this feature, but this could actually be the best special feature that has ever been put out on a Disney Blu-ray release. I know that's a big statement, but there is just so much background in the movie making process here that it is literally like watching history. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff present five different pitches that occurred during the production of The Lion King, including "Circle of Life," Simba and Nala's first scene together, Simba and Nala heading out to play, "Hakuna Matata," and Rafiki with Simba at the Reflecting Pool. With a documentary, you're going to see some of this footage with a bunch of talking heads explaining what was happening or what the overall mood was or whatever sound clips they end up putting over the clips. However, with these features you get to actually watch what it is like to be in the room during these pitches. In the "Circle of Life" pitch, the conversation turns to color and how it was starting to look too warm and not showcasing enough cool colors to balance it out, and it was completely fascinating. Watching the co-directors sell an entire room of Disney executives and artists on "Hakuna Matata" is on of those magical moments that wouldn't believe unless you see it with your own eyes, and watching their pitch to Don Hahn on the sequence where Rafiki guides Simba to the Reflecting Pool and ultimately the Mufasa gave me chills. You literally get to watch them catch lightning in a bottle and I can't remember ever watching a bonus feature that was so impactful and truly in the moment.
- Sing-Along Version - If you don't already know the words to all of the songs, there is in fact a sing-along version, but who doesn't know all of the words at this point?