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Walt Disney Home Video presents
"Man village? They'll ruin him. They'll make a man out of him."
DVD ReviewThe Jungle Book is one of those Disney movies that has become a part of the zeitgeist. I'm not sure if I ever even saw it growing up, but the characters—the boy Mowgli, orphaned in the jungle; the bear Baloo, carefree and easy-going; the villainous tiger Shere Kahn—are iconic. The last animated picture overseen by Walt Disney, it's full of what can't be called anything else but that Disney magic, a perfect combination of story, character, and animation.
This isn't a movie you watch for the plot, which is barely there—stuffy panther Bagheera decides Mowgli needs to return to the Man-Village, lest he be eaten by Shere Kahn, and along the way, the boy meets and is sometimes aided by all the creatures of the jungle. But it has some of the most memorable and enduring sequences in Disney animation. The friendship between Mowgli and Baloo is established a little too quickly, but when you do it with a song as infectious as The Bare Necessities, it doesn't matter. Mowgli's encounter with the villainous hypnotist python Kaa (if he sounds a lot like Winnie the Pooh, it's because he's voiced by the bear himself, Sterling Holloway) is just fun to watch, as his serpent song slowly lulls the boy to sleep (the snake considers him a light snack, which makes his disgust at Shere Khan's appetite for the boy a little confusing). The best sequence is the madcap dance with King Louie (I Wan'na Be Like You), an ape who wants Mowgli to teach him to be a man (why, when being a monkey looks like so much more fun?).
The movie is constantly entertaining, but the lazy pace might read as boring to today's hyper-stimulated children—it's hard to blame them when you see the kind of mile-a-minute pop culture references that pass for kid's movies these days. The Jungle Book is timeless—Baloo may be a beatnik, and those three vultures may remind you of the Beatles, but it wouldn't matter one bit if you had no concept of either. That's the true magic of these Disney classics—they put character and storytelling before crass commercialism (though all the cute animals on display prove the two aren't mutually exclusive).
This is the first time Disney used recognizable actors for the animated characters, but it's hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the roles. Phil Harris' laid back drawl defines Baloo as a character as much as George Sanders' haughty tones paint of picture of the regal, self-satisfied Shere Kahn. Jazz musician Louis Prima even served as a visual model for the manic antics of King Louie, and his song is the movie's most memorable.
Produced at a troubled time for Disney, the film doesn't seem quite as lush as some of the earlier Disney classics, but the "acting" from the animated cast is subtle and nuanced even by today's standards. For a movie without much of a story, that's certainly key, and the characters are why people still watch this thing after 40 years. There have been better told, and certainly more technically accomplished animated films, but I don't know that Disney has released one that quite surpasses it for sheer entertainment value.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Presented in the original widescreen theatrical ratio, this edition replaces an earlier full frame release. Technically, you're losing some image at the top and bottom of the screen due to the matting, but the picture was always intended to be seen the way it played in theaters in 1967. Regardless, it's a beautiful picture, with crisp lines, bold color and excellent detail.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in the original mono and an excellent 5.1 "enhanced home theater mix" that spreads the audio across the front soundstage, allowing for a fuller presentation of the film's memorable songs. The surrounds stay more of less silent throughout, however—they haven't gone over the top with the remix, just opened it up a bit from the original one channel mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 4 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by songwriter Richard Sherman, animator Andres Deja, and actor Bruce Reitherman
Packaging: Keep Case
The extras are split across two discs. Disc 1 starts off with an audio commentary featuring songwriter Richard Sherman, present-day Disney animator Andres Deja, and Bruce Reitherman, the voice of Mowgli and son of the director, Wolfgang Reitherman. The three spend most of their time praising the picture, but their enthusiasm engages rather than bores. Archival audio clips contribute the historical perspective of the director, writer Larry Clemmons, and animator Ollie Johnston.
The Lost Character: Rocky the Rhino is a seven-minute peek at a character ultimately trimmed from the film, a slow-witted rhino who threatened to make things tougher for Mowgli. Walt Disney felt the scene added a bit too much comedy following the riotous King Louie sequence, and the Rocky hit the cutting room floor. This featurette features the original storyboards along with audio from the voice of Rocky, Frank Fontaine.
Over 20 minutes of deleted songs offer another look at what might have been—as originally conceived, The Jungle Book featured a number of songs from composer/lyricist Terry Gilkyson. His songs were junked when Disney decided the movie needed a lighter tone (all but one, at least—The Bare Necessities is his). The seven songs here (including an alternate version of Bare Necessities) are rather more downbeat that those contributed by final songwriters the Sherman Brothers, and though the recording quality could be better, they're certainly an interesting historical document.
The highlight of Disc 2 is The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book. A 49-minute love letter to the movie from many of the people who created it. (new and archival interviews are sprinkled throughout) There's a good overview of the film's conception in Walt Disney's love of the Rudyard Kipling stories and a sometimes-troubled production (briefly touching on some strife along the way, including the departure of Bill Peet, one of Disney's most celebrated story men), but it strays pretty far away from objectivity, presenting the movie as one of the most beloved of all time. A wistful final segment focuses on Walt Disney's passing, a year before the film was released.
Disney's Kiplig: Walt's Magical Touch on a Legendary Classic is a 15-minute look at the differences between Walt's take on the cartoon, the original Bill Peet adaptation, and Kipling's Mowgli stories.
The ten-minute The Lure of The Jungle Book features present-day animators talking about the love for the movie, which they dub the ultimate "animator's movie" for the complex character animation on display. While I don't doubt their enthusiasm, nor do I want to disparage the final product, which features some brilliant sequences, there is no mention of the fact that some of the sequences they highlight, including one of Mowgli walking alone, amusing himself, were copied whole cloth from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as a cost-saving measure. Still, the comments from such celebrated talents as Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) will make you appreciate The Jungle Book as more than a leisurely-paced adventure.
Mowgli's Return to the Wild takes a brief look at voice actor Bruce Reitherman's present day career making nature documentaries. He talks a bit about voicing Mowgli and his relationship with his father.
Frank and Ollie is an archive piece featuring legendary animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, members of Disney's vaunted "Nine Old Men," who together animated around 50 percent of The Jungle Book. The two talk about how their own friendship helped bring Mowgli and Baloo's to life.
An art gallery includes hundreds of sketches and original marketing pieces, aimed at a more serious audience than the kids who will enjoy a selection of four games housed under Baloo's Virtual Swingin' Jungle Cruise (the voice actor they got to play Baloo sounds very little like Phil Harris).
Though the material here hardly compares to the voluminous extras on Snow White, it's worth going through, though I am puzzled by the exclusion of the original and re-release trailers.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsAn animation marvel, The Jungle Book is a leisurely paced adventure worlds away from the manic entertainments that constitute modern animation, and this Platinum Edition DVD presents it in stunning form.
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