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, however, 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.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 18 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copykeep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/11/2014
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) and his band, Baloo the bear (Phil Harris), King Louis the Orangutan King (Louis Prima), and the slithering serpent Raa (Sterling Holloway), among others.
The Production Rating: 4/5
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 though “I Wanna Be Like You” is given some heft by Prima’s scat-infused delivery and a Beatles-inspired bunch of vultures surprisingly sing in the vein of a barbershop quartet on “That’s What Friends Are For”), but the movie’s best known number “The Bare Necessities” wasn’t written by them. Rather, songwriter Terry Gilkyson who was the original songwriter for the movie 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. Phil Harris walks away with the picture as the easy-going Baloo, Sterling Holloway hisses coyly (and coilingly) as Raa, and Sebastian Cabot grounds the film rather regally as Bagheera. And no one can do haughty and intimidating like George Sanders.
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 (the film actually begins quite slowly, and it’s almost a quarter hour before the first tune is offered, unusual in a Disney animated musical), and there is that overriding lack of great plotting. Individual sequences and some funny sight gags 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.
The film is presented at a 1.75:1 aspect ratio and is delivered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. For those who found the scrubbed look of previous releases like The Sword in the Stone problematic, there won’t be any relief from worry with this release. Grain is once again a mere memory, and the DNR applied has a deleterious effect on fine-line animation like whiskers on the animals (which seem to fade in and out if one looks closely). Motion sometimes gets affected by the processing, too, blurring certain shots strangely. Sharpness ebbs and flows as well with all the processing especially in certain shots that aren’t close-ups. Color is balanced and strong without any bleeding, and there is no banding to be seen. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix doesn’t make full use of that wide soundstage, but it certainly is the best the film as ever sounded on home video. The musical numbers find themselves spread through the available channels and occasionally some of George Bruns’ background score is also expanded beyond the front soudndstage, and there is one neat effect where a voice’s echoes bounce around the rears. But most of the dialogue has been placed in the center channel. The disc also offers the original mono mix in Dolby Digital 1.0, and despite a low bitrate sounds surprisingly good.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The disc features new bonus items and selected features from the previous DVD release. The new features are all in HD:
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
Introductions to the Film (1:04, 0:30): the late Diane Disney Miller and songwriter Richard Sherman are each afforded an introductory comment or two. These are selected from the original menu upon pushing “play.”
Alternate Ending (8:46): the original ending conceived for the film with its accompanying storyboards is presented – “Mowgli and the Hunter.”
@DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity (9:44): a program at Disney Animation called “Spark” is described by various staff members. It’s an in-house program where staff is encouraged to come up with new ideas and innovations.
Music, Memories, & Mowgli (9:49): songwriter Richard Sherman, staff member Floyd Norman, and Diane Disney Miller recall the making of the movie.
Disney Intermission: comes up when the pause key is pressed during the movie. It presents five sing along renditions of songs from the film. This may be turned off in the set-up menu.
Bear-E-Oke (12:47): the same intermission sing along program can also be selected from the menu, either individual songs or in montage.
I Wanna Be Like You (18:25): two excited youngsters Blake and G are given a day-long behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
DVD Bonus Features: these are presented in SD unless otherwise noted:
- Audio Commentary: composer Richard Sherman, artist Andreas Deja, and star Bruce Reitherman along with archived voices of the director and other important contributors to the movie contribute a lively commentary track.
- The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book (46:27) is a marvelous encapsulation of how the film came to be. This documentary is one of the most interesting and revealing on any of the Disney classics, not shying away from some of the turmoil that occurred behind-the-scenes before The Jungle Book made it to the screen.
- Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magical Touch on a Literary Classic (15:01): a 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.
- The Lure of The Jungle Book (9:28): a 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.
- Mowgli’s Return to the Wild (5:09): 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.
- Frank & Ollie (3:46): 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.
- The Lost Character: Rocky the Rhino (6:36): a series of storyboards and audio tracks detailing this big but shy creature voiced by Frank Fontaine.
- Disneypedia (14:21): a quick survey of the animals which appear in the film.
- Song Selection (12:16, HD): takes the viewer directly to four song sequences in the film with optional subtitled sing along lyrics. They may also be selected separately.
- “I Wanna Be Like You” Music Video (2:51): the Jonas Brothers deliver a raucous version of the catchy tune.
Game Booklet: enclosed in the case for the younger members of the family.
Promo Trailers (HD): Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition, Muppets Most Wanted, Frozen.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
For many a favorite Disney feature, The Jungle Book arrives on this new Blu-ray release looking much like the most recent processed Disney animated titles. Purists won’t like it, but the average family likely won’t notice much beyond the strong colors and general clarity of the image, and the sound quality is very good.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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