There is no question that The Jungle Book is a verifiable Disney classic. The film marks the final animated piece Walt Disney work on before his death. He died while the film was still in production, but he was still able to leave his own unique mark on this 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel of the same name. Nearly 50 years later, this film is still beloved and has finally made its way onto Blu-ray as part of the prestigious Diamond Edition club.
The film ✮✮✮✮1/2
The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, who as a baby becomes orphaned in the wild jungles of India after a terrible storm. A pack of wolves raise him as their own until they deem it too dangerous for him to stay with the pack. So they commission a black panther named Bagheera to escort the young Mowgli back to the human village. They meet up with a friendly laid-back bear named Baloo, who teaches Mowgli to appreciate the “Bare Necessities” of life. Things don’t go as planned when their journey gets interrupted by a lot of nefarious animals lurking in the jungle.
The Jungle Book was always one of my favorite films to watch growing up. The pacing of the film is fantastic, though slightly episodic, as it moves from one crazy adventure to another. The collective cast of characters and animals is diverse and endearing; from Kaa the surreptitious snake and King Louie the king of the monkeys to Sheer Khan the man-hating tiger–all have earned their places in the Disney character pantheon. Everyone in the jungle has rhythm, singing, dancing, and groovin’ whenever possible.
One thing that stands out about this film is the score. George Bruns scores have become synonymous with Disney’s Xerox era. His work on The Jungle Book is delightful, dark and brooding. It stands out melodically from other Disney scores. Also, the songs, written by the brother team of Robert and Richard Sherman, are jazzy, flouncy and enjoyable. “I Want To be Like You” and “Bare Necessities” definitely stand out, but other tunes like “Trust in Me” and”That’s What Friends Are For” are classics. Even “My Own Home” is a forgotten gem from this soundtrack.
The HD conversion is appropriately crisp and didn’t distract from the movie (much like the over-processed and saturated Cinderella Blu-ray). The “sketchiness”, which was so characteristic of movies from Disney’s Xerox era, is still present, maintaining that touch and sense of nostalgia. Film grain, on the other hand, has been completely erased and smoothed out. The watercolor backgrounds are delightful and vibrant, blacks are deep, and the colors are appropriately saturated. The final product is pretty to look at, but Disney and animation purists will definitely be disappointed by the conversion.
The Features ✮✮✮✮
The features on The Jungle Book Blu-ray were pretty decent. It is a Diamond Edition after all, so we expect Disney to put forth a little bit of effort in producing new content and digging up old footage from the archives. The new features that the dug up or created are fun and worth it.
We start off with two introductions by Diane Disney Miller and Richard M. Sherman. The pair was also joined by Disney animator Floyd Norman for a segment called “Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman.” This was absolutely wonderful because it allowed three people who were either directly or indirectly involved in The Jungle Book‘s production to share stories and insights about Walt, the film and the production process. This is also most likely Diane’s final appearance on a Disney Blu-ray, since she passed away in December of last year.
We get another @DisneyAnimation segment. This time it is called “@DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity“, which delves into the Spark Showcase program at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The Spark Showcase gives Disney Animation employees the opportunity to pitch their ideas for stories, new creative processes and other ideas that the studio could use. For example, the 2D/CGI animation hybrid was originally a Spark idea, which was then used for the production of the Oscar-winning short Paperman. I love these @DisneyAnimation segments that we have been seeing in the last few Disney Blu-ray releases because they give us an inside look at the studio today. While this segment had nothing to do with The Jungle Book itself, I still appreciated its inclusion because it was telling the story about the studio behind the film.
Surprisingly, nearly 50 years later, Disney was still able to bring us new Jungle Book footage in an alternate ending called “Mowgli and the Hunger.” This ending was recently discovered in the archives buried in an early script. Instead of just ignore it, the Mouse House commissioned an in-house artist to make storyboards of the discarded sequence. It was really interesting to watch, although it really did make me appreciate the simplicity of the film’s actual ending. This ending introduced new characters very late in the game and even made Sheer Khan seem like a hero, rather than a terrifying villain. This is the type of creative bonus feature that I would love Disney to do more of on future releases because it was in-context, historical, informative and fun.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Disney Diamond Edition with the good ol’ karaoke sing-along segment. In Mary Poppins, we got Mary-oke, in The Little Mermaid we got Crab-eoke, and in The Jungle Book we get Bear-E-Oke. I actually quite like these karaoke tracks because it’s like having the soundtrack at your fingertips. The lyrics, which dance about the screen, are stylized and not actually meant to be used for karaoke, but they are still fun to look at. This is a visual treat and fun to tap your toes and sing along with. Although the only thing I didn’t like is when occasionally some songs would have visuals that blended CGI trees and other elements with the flat 2D characters. It was out of place and really made the 2D feel cheap, which is far from the truth! We also get to see the Bare-E-Oke return whenever you push pause while watching the film with Disney Intermission: Bear-E-Oke hosted by Baloo.
Lastly, we get I Wanna Be Like You: Hangin’ Out At Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’m not really a fan of these park promotion pieces, but I understand why Disney does them. This exhaustive segment was hosted by two stars of the Disney Channel series Dog with a Blog and showed how animals are cared for at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Also, we get the “classic” DVD bonus features, which are now staples in every new Blu-ray release.
Disney has done it again with another must-own Diamond Edition release. The Jungle Book Blu-ray is not only beautiful to look at (I might even say they made it too pretty), but it is also loaded with fun and interesting featurettes. Any Disney connoisseur would be well off having this part of their Blu-ray collection. I would even say owning it is a bear necessity.