Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 78 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish; 1.0 English
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Review Date: September 27, 2007
The Jungle Book is widely known as the last animated feature that Walt Disney oversaw before his death. It has delighted generations of children and their parents, contains one of the most bracing and joyous songs in the entire Disney canon, and is loaded with beautiful, intricate animation in the classic style. Truth be told, though it’s based on stories by Rudyard Kipling, the story fashioned for the animated version is lightened considerably from Kipling‘s tales, so if it’s Kipling you want, look elsewhere.
And there really isn’t much plot here to speak of. An infant human child named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, son of the director) is abandoned in the jungle and raised by wolves. After he reaches the age of ten, his jungle friends decide he needs to join those of his own kind in the “man village,” a much safer place for him now that the sworn enemy of man, the fierce tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders), has arrived on the scene. So, Mowgli and his protector Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot), make a long trek through the jungle in an effort for him to reach sanctuary. Along we way he meets Colonel Hati the elephant (J. Pat O’Malley), Baloo the bear (Phil Harris), King Louis the Orangutan King (Louis Prima), and the slithering serpent Raa (Sterling Holloway), among others.
The two-time Oscar winning Sherman Brothers provide most of the song score for the film (five that made it into the finished film, all pleasant but none particularly inspired), but the movie’s best known number “The Bare Necessities” wasn’t written by them. Rather, songwriter Terry Gilkyson received the film’s sole Oscar nomination for his jaunty, toe-tapping tune.
The Jungle Book was also the first time that many of the primary vocal artists in an animated Disney movie were stars in their own right. Disney animated features had always been well cast but only rarely with easily recognizable star voices. Here, apart from the voice of Mowgli, the voice talent on display was stellar, and the roles couldn’t be better or more ingratiatingly cast.
The animation work by many of Disney’s long-time staff of animators during the Golden Age continues at a very high level in this picture. The characters are beautifully drawn, and the use of the multiplane camera to give depth and dimension to the jungle is particularly striking. Where the movie tends to drag is in the storytelling itself with the pace occasionally slowing down to a crawl, and there is that overriding lack of great plotting. Individual sequences in The Jungle Book are as good as in any classic Disney film, but as a whole, it isn’t in the same league as Pinocchio, Bambi, or even later achievements like Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty.
Disney is releasing this edition of the film in an enhanced 1.75:1 transfer. The anamorphic image is beautifully crisp and detailed with solid colors that never seem garish or overly dynamic. I noticed just a trace of pixilation in a few solid lines, but otherwise the image is really immaculate. Compared to the 1999 full frame release of the film, this new edition features a considerably cleaner look with much better contrast and sharpness. As they did with the latest release of Peter Pan, colors have been adjusted from the last DVD release in terms of skin tones and clothing. And, yes, some information from the top and bottom of the frame has been lost in this widescreen version. I noticed in one or two places where the top of Mowgli’s head went out of frame for a second. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear that any significant information has been lost. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Disney has thoughtfully included both an enhanced 5.1 Dolby Digital mix for this release along with the original mono track. Truthfully, the opened up sound design of the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is welcome but unobtrusive. Music is the primary inhabitant of the rear channels, but the soundstage is much wider and more alive in the fronts throughout the film.
The two disc Platinum Edition contains a wealth of information about the film, most never available before.
Disc one contains a lively audio commentary featuring composer Richard Sherman, artist Andreas Deja, and star Bruce Reitherman along with archived voices of the director and other important contributors to the movie.
“The Lost Character: Rocky the Rhino” is a 6½ -minute series of storyboards and audio tracks detailing a scene that introduced this big but shy creature voiced by Frank Fontaine.
The Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund is a 3½-minute full frame featurette detailing the over $10 million the studio has contributed to conservation efforts around the world.
The Jonas Brothers contribute a raucous music video of the song “I Wanna Be Like You” which is worlds apart from the version in the film. The music video which also features clips from the movie lasts 2½-minutes.
A Disney Sing-Along Selection offers four songs from the film with song lyrics subtitled (these can be turned off) for sing alongs at home.
A section of seven deleted songs by composer Terry Gilkyson are offered in very scratchy sounding audio-only versions. Oddly, “The Bare Necessities” here is a completely different version of the song that what ended up in the actual film. The songs all have a dark tone which would have been at odds with the lighter, more playful aspects of the movie though “I Knew I Belonged to Her” is a lovely ballad.
Disc Two contains the Backstage Disney items and a host of games.
“The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book” is a marvelous encapsulation of how the film came to be. This brand new documentary is one of the most interesting and revealing feature on any Disney classic, not shying away from some of the turmoil that occurred before The Jungle Book made it to the screen. Presented in nonanamorphic letterbox, the feature runs 46½ minutes.
“Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magical Touch on a Literary Classic” is a 15-minute comparison between the original Kipling tale, the original Bill Peet adaptation, and Walt Disney’s own modifications to bring a lighter, more playful tone to the movie. This featurette is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
“The Lure of The Jungle Book” is a fascinating discussion among present-day Disney animators about how the classic animation in this film influenced their animation techniques in The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, Tarzan, and Beauty and the Beast with clips comparing animals from the various films. This nonanamorphic letterbox feature runs 9½ minutes.
“Mowgli’s Return to the Wild” details the present career of star Bruce Reitherman who is now a nature documentarian. His present love of and fascination with filming nature and its animals was born from his work on this movie and through the influences of his father who was the film’s director. The nonanamorphic featurette is 5 minutes in length.
”Frank & Ollie” is an almost 4-minute long full frame piece which looks to have been lifted from The Wonderful World of Color in which legendary cartoonists Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas (who drew more than half of the movie on their own) discuss their work on bringing Mowgli and Baloo to life.
An art galleries section has hundreds of drawings, pencil sketches, character maps, and publicity stills relating to the film.
In the games section there are different types of games for different aged children and at different skill levels.
“Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise” offers four different types of games for older gamers.
“The Jungle Book Fun with Language Games” offer new readers four games of recognizing words and pictures of animals. Two of the games are on the disc, and the other two can be accessed via DVD-ROM drives.
As usual, there are also trailers for other Disney film and DVD releases including Enchanted, Meet the Robinsons, the Santa Clause 3, Return to Never Land, the Aristocats, High School Musical 2, and Ratatouille.
For many a favorite Disney feature, The Jungle Book arrives on this new DVD release looking beautiful, sounding great, and offering a great deal for your dollar. It comes highly recommended.