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Jungle Emperor Leo DVD (Hyb)

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Reviews of this title:

James Scyarin - Nov 11 2003
Rating: Wonderful!
An awesome movie, definitely worth getting.
This was an excellent movie, one of the best I've seen in a while. Not a particularly good choice for those who are faint of heart, as Tezuka illustrates a mastery over emotional portrayal in this woesome tale. This movie covers a wide spectrum of moods, shifting from light hearted day dreams to emotionally shattering tragedy. Five Star (*****)

Jon F. Turner - Nov 21 2004
Rating: Pretty good!
Scattered, but beautifully animated and emotionally charged jungle tale.
Don't expect a typical happy Disney-style fantasy with JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO: this animated feature, while lush and gorgeous and overflowing with cuddly animal characters, is actually a more sophisticated story charged with dramatic twists and packed with one-two-three emotional punches. Osamu Tezuka crafted this tale more than fifty years ago, and its impact still seems to be in effect to this day. The story was adapted into two television series—the first of which chronicles the opening years of Leo the white lion and his destiny to become king (shades of THE LION KING here, huh?), and the second involving Leo's adulthood. The second TV show was eventually remade into this feature film by Tezuka Productions, released eight years after Tezuka's death in 1989. The purpose of Tezuka Productions is to provide new incarnations of his work through animation and this film (in addition to another, METROPOLIS) is no exception.

As mentioned previously, the movie follows Leo, now king, and his wife, Queen Lyre giving birth to two cubs, Lune and Lukio. Lune becomes curious about humans when he discovers a music box in a wrecked airplane, and wants to experience the human world. This occurs immediately after a breathtaking five-minute long opening sequence which recalls that of THE LION KING, only with a powerful, sweeping orchestral overture and no African chanted songs. Meanwhile, in the big city, a greedy treasure hunter, Ham Egg, is hired by the Science and Technology Agency to go on a hunt for the Moonlight Stones, which supposedly are powerful enough to save everyone from an impending energy crisis. Rather predictably, Ham Egg turns his "venture" into a mad rampage through the jungle, killing animals left and right, cutting down trees, and setting foliage ablaze. At the same time, two other scientists with the rather wacky names of Lemonade and Dr. Moustache are trying to protect the jungle and find the Moonlight Stones before Ham Egg does. While Leo engages Ham Egg in a vicious duel which culminates with the former knocking the latter's rifle away into the fire, he refuses to start a war with man—a decision that does not rest well with the elephants, who surprisingly turn against Leo. But he not only has to contend with this, but a terrible virus that sweeps through the jungle about halfway through the movie, endangering the animals' lives. During all this, little Lune is swept away from his home and winds up as a star in the circus. He befriends a streetwise mouse and a pretty acrobat, and soon learns that humans are rather complex creatures. Then a stork informs him of the troubles plaguing the jungle, and, of course, Lune finds a way back home... but he doesn't show up until the very end of the movie. The film culminates with a dramatic and perilous journey to Mount Moon in search of the Moonlight Stones. I'll leave it up to you to find out who survives at the end.

JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO has only one major thing going against it, and that is the aforementioned dual plotline. While the Lune and Leo stories are both well told and leave the viewer with something to think about, they never intertwine and occasionally come off as a bit forced. In fact, it sometimes feels as though this movie is trying to do too much in 99 minutes, leaving little time for character development. Minor characters such as a bullying little elephant and his intimidating father, a gazelle, a toucan bird, a baboon, and even a woolly mammoth have rather small screentime and never really emerge as fully defined personalities, making their presence a tad superfluous. This is only a minor quibble, however, as this movie nonetheless is very engrossing and appealing not just for children, but for grownups too.

The animation is lush and amazing to look at, and Isao Tomita's music is simply breathtaking. (And to think that I knew him as the man responsible for the trippy yet innovative TOMITA PLANETS!) The movie isn't for very young children, however, for the sight of animals shot mercilessly (including a warthog and a rhino!) may be disturbing. But the real emotional gutwrenchers of the movie are seeing the animals suffer from the effects of the jungle plague and the climactic finale, which involves a very moving yet heartbreaking sacrifice which will leave youngsters in tears as much as it left me. Such sequences, however shocking they may be, only help to make the strong messages this movie carries very clear, and it does that with a huge touch of pathos.

One thing I forgot to mention was the dub, recorded by NYAV Post. It is probably one of the most underrated, less talked about English tracks of Anime from 2003, which is unfortunate, because this adaptation deserves better recognition. Directed by Michael Sinterniklaas (whose biggest dream was always to dub a Tezuka production into English), this dub features not only a very commendable script adaptation (by Sinterniklaas himself, who also voices Tommy the gazelle in the dub) and vocal performances which breathe life and emotion to the characters. Dan Green voices the title character with resonance and regality, and Tara Jayne (best known as Filia from THE SLAYERS TRY) does an amazing job accentuating Lune's spunkiness. Veronica Taylor has a small part as Lyre, but she makes the use of it... there's one scene where she'll make you cry. The best voices belong to Ham Egg, voiced, interestingly, by Etoh himself from RECORD OF LODOSS WAR, Ed Paul, and especially Mike Pollock as Dr. Moustache. I never would have guessed that his performance was just a "quick and dirty" affair; he does an absolutely bang-up job delivering just the right amount of gentle comic relief, sternness, and later, emotional pathos. When I met Sinterniklaas at the ANIME NEXT 2004 convention, he told me that it meant so much to him that I really enjoyed this dub; I found it so hard to believe that he had a short period of time to record it. He told me that he has plans to get the dub revamped for a theatrical release. Whether it happens or not, I nonetheless rate this dub very, very highly as one of the best around. (If you're reading this, Mike, I hope you know that I haven't changed my thoughts on this dub since the first time I heard it. Keep up the good work!)

Unfortunately, the DVD release by Media Blasters isn't really anything special; the transfer is good and the audio is brilliant, but the only extra is the Japanese trailer. A gem like this deserves better. Nonetheless, this is a very beautiful, emotionally charged jungle adventure, and I recommend it heartily, despite its flaws.

Anime fans have accused Disney of using this work by Tezuka as a source of inspiration for THE LION KING. I don't know whether this is true or not, but my appeal for JUNGLE EMPEROR LEO does not diminish my admiration for the Disney movie of the same title. Both are excellent jungle stories in their own right.