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The Lion King

The two most satisfying things about The Lion King: A Giant Leap, Disney Editions soft-cover offering published in January of this year, are the introduction and the affordability. Beyond that, the book has little new to offer.

That said, any chance to read Don Hahn’s reflections on the work that he so ably guides is a treat. Disney animation is truly magic to the producer, and he holds the process and the product close to his heart with a palpable respect and passion that one wishes every Disney executive shared. His too brief introduction is concise and clever, and inspiring enough to make the reader spend time turning the (oddly familiar) pages.

There are 125 pages and twice as many lush illustrations culled from original production art to fill out the pleasant (albeit sometimes stiff) narrative by the talented Christopher Finch (who also authored the hardcover art book on the film that Hyperion published in 1994.) The book appears to be intended mostly for younger readers, but adults will find it little more than a discount-stickered cliff-notes re-cap of Finch’s much more handsome The Art of the Lion King (Hyperion Press, 1994.) That was the book that launched the “art of” library, and it remains among the best. So while the Art Of is out of print, although easily found either new or remaindered if you make the effort, for $15.95 a dollar-to-drawing proportionally equal alternative is less trouble to walk to the register.

With so few animation offerings from Disney’s previously prolific publishing arm, it is particularly upsetting to find barely anything new here. And I can’t even be certain that any of the illustrations are truly fresh, because after a page by page comparison of this book and the Art Of book I find less than a dozen illustrations here that I couldn’t find in the 1994 book. I suspect that with even further inspection I’d find most of those are repeats, too.

The perfume of marketing synergy clings to The Lion King: A Giant Leap as I’m certain every theatre lobby on the national tour of the stage show and the IMAX screenings had a display of a half-dozen copies for patrons to snag on the way in or out. And while I’m always happy to have another look at the denizens of the Pride Lands, it just doesn’t seem to be enough that the book’s colors are rich and true and that the quality of reproduction is excellent. Sure, for Lion King fans it’s a treat to have one more icon to park on the library shelf, but it pales in comparison to not only the original, but has an uphill battle against the exquisite The Art of Finding Nemo published just two weeks ago by Chronicle Books. How sad that Disney couldn’t invest the time and effort into something like a larger format version of the “Art of the Little Mermaid” which deserves to be seen on a scale greater than its pocket-book incarnation. Or how about something altogether new like a long-overdue and glaringly absent “Art of Beauty and the Beast” which was expected two years ago and simply didn’t materialize?

I’m usually not one to look a gift mouse in the mouth, but Chez Disney is showing little to no signs of innovative and fresh anything these days, and one has to wonder at the possibility that the directive from the throne of the kingdom might just be “Capitalize on the assets, kids, cause I haven’t got anything new at the moment.” *sigh* To quote another cowardly lion: You can say that again!

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