I did not grow up watching Disney animated movies like most kids (ironically, I am now conversant in them almost to the level of a true Disnoid). Indeed, I only remember having seen three in my young years: Lady and the Tramp, The Black Calderon and The Jungle Book. My memories of The Jungle Book being particularly thin, it was with great and somewhat nostalgic anticipation that I approached Disney’s new Blu-ray release of the film. Hit the jump for my The Jungle Book Blu-ray review.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories (originally published in magazines and later collected into a book of the same name), The Jungle Book follows Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) AKA the Man Cub, a young boy who was lost in the Indian jungle as a babe and subsequently raised by woods. When the human-hating tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) appears, the animals determine that Mowgli should return to the human village for his own safety, despite his protestations. Aided by Bagheera the Panther (Sebastian Cabot), Baloo the Bear (Phil Harris) and several vultures, Mowgli has a slew of adventures on his way back to civilization.
Composing a narrative feature film from The Jungle Book was a tall order, as the individual stories were self-contained, and indeed the resulting movie does come across as episodic. That having been said, The Jungle Book is still an immensely enjoyable film. The characters are memorable, and the source material still a rich tapestry from which to draw even if the connecting story layered upon somewhat thin. The animation of the jungle is some of the most lush, beautiful and elaborate work created by the studio to that date (1967), perhaps not surpassed until The Lion King. And of course, Oscar-nominated “The Bare Necessities” ranks among the most memorable of all Disney songs.
Like the other Disney classics that have received the deluxe Blu-ray treatment, the restoration of The Jungle Book is spectacular, as flawless a picture quality on an older film as I have seen recently–even better than some Criterion releases. Additionally, the colors are rich and saturated, almost popping from the screen (to my eye, animated films benefit even more in terms of color restoration than live-action). Audio is so crisp and clear that the lack of ambient jungle noises in the sound design stands out almost eerily. Once one grows accustomed to that oddity, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio matches the 1.75:1 picture in quality.
The Blu-ray is loaded with special features, the most I have seen on a single disc in quite some time, including all of the “classic” DVD extras with the new features created specifically for this release. Stand-out among these are newly rendered storyboards for a recently rediscovered treatment of an alternate ending to the film and “Music, Memories & Mowgli,” an interesting and very nicely produced conversation between songwriter Richard M. Sherman, animator Floyd Norman and Diane Disney Miller. More for the kiddies are the “Bear-E-Oke Sing Along” and “I Wan’na Be Like You,” a behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Last of the new features is “Disney Animation: Sparking Creativity,” a fairly typical studio promo piece about how new ideas are fostered at Disney Animation Studios.
Compared to the stylishly produced and HD special features of the Blu-ray, the classic DVD extras leave a lot to be desired–not only because of the SD source material, but because the dry, manufactured, bland voice-over studio-speak style that plagued bonus features for years. Best among these are the original storyboards for a deleted scene and a kids edutainment piece on the animals in the film, “Disneypedia: Junglemania!” Also included are the typical run of extras one might find any disc: a commentary track, making of featurette, a description of character animation, the approach to adapting a literary classic, and music videos.
All in all, revisiting The Jungle Book is a pleasant trip down nostalgia lane. Is it the greatest of Disney films? No, but it is one with much to love, immensely enjoyable.