Jungle Book, The: Diamond Edition

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Apr 30, 2014
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Wolfgang Reitherman

Release Date(s)

1967 (February 11, 2014)

Studio(s)

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Review

Rudyard Kipling’s stories about Mowgli and his animal friends have been adapted for many cartoons and movies over the years, but none seem to have more endurance than Disney’s The Jungle Book. Of all of the titles in the Disney animated catalogue, it’s The Jungle Book that seems to be the silliest and the most fun of the bunch. Not that their other animated films aren’t enjoyable, but whimsy plays a bigger part in this film than the others, at least to me.

The Jungle Book was released in 1967 and had the unfortunate distinction of being the final animated film that Walt Disney participated in due to his death during the production. It was a transitional period afterwards for a studio that had lost its creator and mentor, but despite that, the film still carries Walt Disney’s unmistakable stamp as a storyteller. Each film after it would get more and more lavish in story and design, but The Jungle Book was really the last film to be full of wide-eyed wonder and child-like innocence. The simple story of Mowgli, a child raised in the wild by wolves who must leave the jungle before he is brought to harm by the villainous tiger Shere Khan, couldn’t be any more basic; but there’s plenty to drawn on from a simple story, especially for the animators who worked on it.

It’s impressive to think that about half of the film was animated by two of Walt Disney’s finest animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, men who had been with the studio from the beginning. The Sherman brothers, Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, also provided some wonderful songs and melodies (as they always did) for the film. Of course there’s also George Bruns, who did the orchestral score, and Terry Gilkyson, who provided the song “The Bare Necessities” for the film. Gilkyson had originally written a number of songs for the film, but when Walt Disney felt his material was too a bit too dark for the story they were trying to tell, he brought in the Sherman brothers to start from scratch. Thankfully, Gilkyson’s “The Bare Necessities” remained, much to everyone’s delight. There’s also some wonderful voice acting from a young Bruce Reitherman (son of the director of the film Wolfgang Reitherman) as Mowgli, plus the always great Sterling Holloway and the instantly recognizable George Sanders. But the most inspired piece of casting is Phil Harris as Balloo and Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera. Aficionados will know that the voice of Junior, the young elephant, is voiced by none other than a very young Clint Howard.

As I stated previously, the film is a lot of fun, and more so than other Disney titles. I suppose if one were to adapt Rudyard Kipling’s original stories into a children’s animated film, liberties must of had to be taken. After all, the stories were pretty dark and dangerous to begin with and probably not as kid-friendly as Walt Disney would have wanted. The final product may have been a far cry from the original stories, but it didn’t matter much. The Jungle Book was a huge success for the studio and continued the legacy of entertaining audiences of all ages, as well as being a fine send-off for Walt Disney himself. The film is well-regarded as one of the most beloved animated films of all time, and not just by audiences, but also by critics, animators and filmmakers. I’m sure some people are thinking ‘it’s no Fantasia or Sleeping Beauty,’ which is true I guess, but it’s at least in equal in craftsmanship, as well as a heck of a good time.

As with all of Disney’s animated titles released on Blu-ray, their restoration efforts yield very slick and clean transfers due to being digitally scrubbed free of any film grain, and The Jungle Book is no different. It’s a matter of preference really, and I tend to feel like it’s not as big a deal as most make it out to be, and this is coming from a bit of a purist. It IS a big deal to me when it’s a normal film that requires far more texture and depth in its image, but for an animated film, it seems to suit it. There’s only so much detail you can squeeze out of an animated cel anyway, but that’s just one man’s opinion. For this transfer, all of the positives are in place for a healthy presentation. It’s very clean and sharp-looking without overburdening edge enhancement (although there’s a minor amount); the color palette pops beautifully with very solid colors, especially greens; blacks are quite deep; and contrast and brightness are right where they need to be. I didn’t notice any signs of macroblocking, but I did notice an extremely light amount of film debris. It’s hard to spot unless you freeze frame it, but it’s there from time to time. Truth be told, this is a very fine transfer, and it seems to be the way Disney chooses to restore and release their animated films, for the most part. It should be noted that it looks nothing like the travesty that was The Sword and the Stone on Blu-ray, which is currently the worst-looking Disney animated film available in my opinion. It’s much, much better than that, and no matter how much of a stickler you are, you can’t help but admire Disney’s efforts here.

As for the film’s soundtrack, you get a number of options: English 7.1 DTS-HD, English Mono (the film’s original theatrical soundtrack) and French, Spanish & Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital. I prefer the original theatrical soundtrack (thank goodness for its inclusion as it’s often ignored), but the 7.1 track has its advantages. It’s basically a much cleaner and bassier soundtrack than the mono. There’s not a whole lot of spatial activity going on from speaker to speaker, but the dialogue is always clear, sound effects and score sound really great, and there’s some surprising dynamic range. It won’t give your surround system a workout, but it’s good enough, especially for the score, which really benefits from a larger soundstage. There are also subtitles in English SDH, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese for those who might need them. The DVD copy of the film that’s been included features soundtracks in English, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, along with the English Mono track, as well as subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French.

The extras that have been included with this release feature a wide variety of things to look through, but not everything from the previous DVD release of the film has been carried over. First up are two separate introductions to the film, one by Diane Disney Miller, and the other by composer Richard M. Sherman; the Disney Intermission Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along option hosted by Baloo; the featurette Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman; an alternate ending to the film entitled Mowgli and The Hunter; the I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom featurette; a Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along option (that goes along with the songs in the film); another featurette, @DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity; and an Info option about Disney Blu-ray. Also in the extras is a section entitled Classic DVD Bonus Features, which includes the Backstage Disney portion (The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book documentary, the Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magic Touch on a Literary Classic featurette, The Lure of The Jungle Book featurette, the Mowgli’s Return to the Wild featurette and one last featurette, Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation); the deleted scene The Lost Character - Rocky the Rhino; the Disneypedia: Junglemania! educational featurette; the Music & More section (which includes the Disney Song Selection option and the “I Wan’na Be Like You” music video by The Jonas Brothers); and last, but not least, an audio commentary with composer Richard M. Sherman, Animator Andreas Deja, actor Bruce Reitherman, and archival appearances from people involved with the production. The DVD that’s been included features only a couple of these extras, plus Disney’s Fast Play option (standard for most Disney DVDs). Oh, and there’s also a paper insert included with codes for Digital Copy/Ultraviolet and Disney Movie Rewards, as well as a 10-page activity booklet for the kiddies.

As for the extras that are missing from the 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD release, they include a set of deleted songs (“Brothers All,” “The Song of the Seeonee,” “The Bare Necessities [demo],” “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” “I Knew I Belonged To Her,” “In A Day’s Work,” and “The Mighty Hunters”); the Insuring a Future for Wildlife and Wild Places featurette; Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise, an interactive game; The Jungle Book Fun with Languages, another interactive game; and a set of still galleries covering the film’s Visual Development, Character Design, Storyboard Art, Layouts and Backgrounds, Production Photos and Publicity. It’s worth noting that there’s nothing missing from the Limited Issue DVD release as it was a bare bones release. Quite obviously, the non-inclusion of the deleted songs and the still galleries is a massive shame. I would have gladly paid the extra cash for a second disc so that everything could be included (and more), but as always, these things are decided by the overall package value and not necessarily satisfying enthusiasts and completists (which they really should be). It’s still a fine set of extras otherwise.

Watching The Jungle Book is like being a kid again, and the early Disney animated films, at least the best ones, are perfect at making you feel that way. Despite a transfer that many will debate and a few missing extras, I’d still have to give this one a good recommendation. It’s a fine package and worth your time whether you’re a Disney enthusiast, a film fan, an animation fan, or if you just want a nice package for you and your family to enjoy.

- Tim Salmons

 

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