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The Lion King’ makes DVD debut

Associated Press | Tuesday, October 7, 2003

The king of cartoon cats is about to reclaim his throne. “The Lion King” debuts Tuesday on DVD with hullabaloo more befitting a new movie than a 9-year-old flick. Walt Disney Pictures lavished painstaking care on the DVD, loading it with hours of extra material for children and parents alike.

Over the weekend, Disney staged a DVD premiere party at Hollywood’s lush El Capitan theater, shutting down Hollywood Boulevard during a celebration that included African musicians and dancers, a live lion cub, and Elton John performing songs from the film.

The “Bambi-meets-Hamlet” tale spins the story of Simba, a lion cub orphaned by the murder of his monarch father, who’s slain by Simba’s evil uncle. Tricked into believing he’s responsible for his father’s death, Simba flees into exile, returning years later to battle his uncle for his rightful crown.

At $328.5 million, “The Lion King” had been the top-grossing animated film ever until this year’s biggest blockbuster, Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.” Factoring in today’s higher admission prices, “Lion King” sold more tickets than “Finding Nemo.

“One of the reasons it was so popular is it’s about our relationships with our dad. You’ve got a character raised in great privilege, then he loses his dad, and he’s tossed out in the world trying to make his way home,” said producer Don Hahn, whose other Disney credits include “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” “We all can relate to the father-and-son themes.”

Gordon Ho, senior vice president of marketing for Disney home video, said “The Lion King” is the most-requested Disney movie.

Two years in the making, “The Lion King” DVD precedes the home-video release of “Finding Nemo” by a month, with Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” – the year’s second biggest hit – coming in December.

Those three titles are expected to propel Disney home video to its best fourth-quarter sales ever.

A new version of the film with an extra song played in large-format IMAX theaters this year. This extended version also is debuting Tuesday on VHS, the first time since the mid-1990s that the film has been available on videotape.

In the DVD era, Disney is continuing its practice of releasing animated classics for a limited time before locking them back in the vault for roughly seven years until the next video reissue.

The two-disc DVD set includes the original theatrical release of “The Lion King” plus the extended version, which adds the tune “Morning Report,” borrowed from the stage adaptation of the film.

The huge range of DVD extras feature background on three deleted sequences; commentary by Hahn and directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff; loads of set-top games; and music videos by composer John performing his Academy Award-winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” plus Hilary Duff and other Disney Channel stars on “Circle of Life.”

“There’s really something for everybody,” said Andy Siditsky, Disney senior vice president of DVD production. “Just like in our theme parks, we try to have an experience for the whole family.”

The set also includes a preview of “The Lion King 1 1/2: Timon and Pumbaa’s Story,” which debuts on home video in February.

In extensive interviews on the DVD set, the filmmakers and Disney executives recount the dubious origins of “The Lion King,” viewed by many at the studio as the B-movie to “Pocahontas,” another Disney animated film in production at the time. The studio was uncertain how the mythic, Shakespearean elements of the story would go over with audiences.

“It wasn’t a fairy tale, it was an original story. It used rock music. It was animals without opposable thumbs,” Hahn said. “It broke the mold in so many ways.”