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DVD Reviews

Disney's 'Lion' is still king of the jumble

By John Harding, jharding@patuxent.com

October 4, 2011

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The message of "The Lion King" is so counter to what we hear all day in the mass media that it's hard to believe the movie ever found an audience:

Live up to your father's standards. Assume responsibility for your actions. Quit wallowing in guilt and regrets over the past. Accept the debt you owe to your community.

Wow. That sort of talk may send chills up parents' spines, but it's not exactly what sets the next generation a-Twittering.

Yet, Disney's "The Lion King" was a killer hit back in 1994 and it is poised to become one all over again this week with a retooled 3-D version on the big screen and a fresh, high-definition video makeover now in stores (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, 2-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack $39.99, four-disc 3-D set $49.99).

However you see it, it's sure to look even better than you remembered. The colors are more vibrant and the lines sharper, giving all the focal planes added depth and dimension, even without special glasses.

Best of all is the remixed sound, presented on the Blu-ray editions in lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The stampeding wildebeest herd may shake some pictures off your walls as they pass, and those soaring African-style chants and rhythms are guaranteed to make you feel like you just touched down in the savanna.

Finally, the great Elton John musical arrangements for "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and all the other hits now have enough elbow room to really break out in their full, primal pop splendor.

The supplements also go beyond what was offered on previous home editions. Depending on which set you select, you could be discovering unseen deleted scenes and extended footage, chuckling over animated bloopers, listening to a cut song or retracing the steps in the creation of this modern classic. The Blu-ray editions also bring the family on-line access to interactive features via BD-Live, including all the bonus extras found on past DVD versions.

If "The Lion King" makes you all warm and fuzzy about noble junglecats, a fitting follow-up is also now available in the live-action Disneynature documentary "African Cats" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, DVD $29.99; Blu-ray Combo $39.99).

Disney cements its reputation for Oscar-winning nature photography in this close-up look at two warring lion prides and the long journey to safety undertaken by one desperate cheetah family.

The narrative ascribes all manner of human emotions to these central figures, so it's more likely to please kids than their skeptical guardians. But take comfort in the fact that a percentage of the sales goes to preserving the vital Amboseli Wildlife Corridor along the African savanna.

Also new on DVD

"Bette Midler — The Showgirl Must Go On" (Image Entertainment, not rated, DVD $19.98; Blu-ray Disc $24.98). At 65, the Divine Miss M has now reached the age when reviewers marvel more at her capacity to breathe than at her ability to entertain. She manages to do both quite nicely in this 70-minute Las Vegas revue, which is ritzy and overblown in ways that seem to stay in Vegas. Midler runs around the giant thrust stage with a backup trio and a leggy line of casino chorines, all accompanied by a big band and some amazing scenic effects. Best of all, the program leaves any chancy new material for another day and sticks with the singer's golden hits, like "Friends" and "The Rose" and "Wind Beneath My Wings." They all sound as good as they look in the Blu-ray's uncompressed DTS-HD audio.

"The Looney Tunes Show" Season I, Volume I (Warner Home Video, not rated, DVD $14.97). Freed from their restrictive, seven-minute comedy shorts,Bugs Bunny andDaffy Duck have moved to the suburbs along with a whole host of familiar characters such as Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat. This half-hour series recycles many vintage cartoons, some in two-minute "music videos," for a new generation of young fans. Volume one features four half-hour installments, with other volumes to follow.

"Submarine" (Anchor Bay Entertainment/Weinstein, rated R, DVD $29.98; Blu-ray Disc $39.99). This very appealing coming-of-age comedy from England soars mostly on the fresh charms of its newcomers, though you will also spot Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor among the cast. They play the quirky but loving parents of another nerdy misfit whose heart is destined to be broken by a free-spirited female student. Inventive storytelling and decisive direction by Richard Ayode keep this one's head well above water.

We all 'Scream 4' ...

Halloween must be near, because the scary flicks are pouring in for review on both DVD and Blu-ray Disc. It may take us a month to comb through them all, so be sure to check back here often.

The leading new arrival this week, of course, is no unknown quantity. It is Wes Craven's long-awaited 2011 entry in his super-popular "Scream" series, "Scream 4" (Anchor Bay Entertainment, rated R, DVD 29.98; Blu-ray Disc $39.99). Craven is a proven master at pacing and plot development in this sort of boogeyman-in-a-mask thriller, so it's not surprising to find all the original stars have signed aboard with him to take one more stab at the franchise.

Neve Campbell returns as Sidney, now the author of a self-help tome, whose book tour through Woodsboro (actually, Ann Arbor) inspires a new spate of slasher killings. So things haven't changed much, especially since Gale (Courtney Cox) is now married to Deputy Fife — er, Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), who leads a small-town band of lawmen even less competent than himself. The next generation of victims and red herrings is well played by the likes of Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettierre, Adam Brody andAlison Brie.

Deadly attacks alternate with ironic gags about the rise of antisocial behavior in the heyday of the so-called "social media." If you're a fan of the series (and who isn't?), the movie is more like a homecoming than a surprise party — but it is still reason enough to celebrate, so stock up on the popcorn.

"A Horrible Way to Die" (Anchor Bay Entertainment, rated R, DVD 26.98; Blu-ray Disc $34.99). This is not at all the torture-porn entry it sounds like, though it will certainly be too gory for some viewers near the end. Yes, there's a serial killer at large, and a past victim who is trying to get her life back together in Alcoholics Anonymous. This dramatic suspense thriller won some prestigious film festival awards, so expect something a little arty and thoughtful delivered up along with the vengeance and severed arteries.

"Dead Cert" (Shout! Factory, not rated, DVD $19.97; Blu-ray Disc $24.99). Some tough-talking Cockney gangsters find their turf invaded by a mob of undead vampires in this well-made British import. If you liked "From Dusk Till Dawn," you'll probably enjoy this flashy slang-and-fang-fest. It gives the term "criminal underworld" a whole new meaning.