Loosely based on two stories from Rudyard Kipling's classic anthology of jungle fables, Walt Disney's The Jungle Book is the latest classic from the Disney vaults to get the newly remastered "Platinum Edition" treatment on DVD, 40 years after it hit theaters. The film follows the young Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman), a baby found abandoned in the jungle by the black panther Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot). Raised by wolves, Mowgli must now be escorted through the jungle by Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) to the safety of the "man-village" because the feared tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) has returned to their portion of the jungle. Along the way, they encounter the elephant troop run by Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O'Malley), the scheming hypnotic snake Kaa (Sterling Holloway), and the rambunctious orangutan King Louie (Louis Prima) who wants to learn the secret of fire.
Accompanying the story, as with most Disney features, are a lot of catchy songs, written by the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert. Interestingly, they weren't the original songwriters on the project; Terry Gilkyson wrote a large selection of numbers, and all but one were dropped from the film and replaced with the Sherman Brothers' tunes. Ironically, that one song, "The Bare Necessities" is the keystone song from the film.
The new transfer of the film looks stunning - colors are vivid and the drawing lines are crisp and bold. There is no dust or any film artifacts which would otherwise date the film - it's just that good. Unfortunately, the film was made at a time where full-frame was more common (they were thinking of television back then), and so there are a few scenes where the anamorphically enhanced 16x9 image looks like it might be getting a bit too close to cutting off character's heads. There are three 5.1 Dolby Digital "Enhanced Home Theater Mixes" for the film, which is still fairly front-heavy, since it was originally a mono film, and there really isn't anything that stands out about it. For purists, the original mono soundtrack has been restored and is presented as well.
Extras on the first disc include a commentary track featuring composer Richard Sherman, animator Andreas Deja, voice actor Bruce Reitherman, and a slew of archival interviews that have been edited in to provide a fuller narrative. It's a well done track that provides a lot of information on the story development, voice casting, animation production, and music. Finishing off the extras are a storyboarded deleted scene (the "That's What Friends are For" sequence with a 'lost' character, Rocky the Rhino), a new "I Wan'na Be Like You" music video performed by Jonas Brothers, a "Disney Song Selection" jukebox feature, and over 20-minutes of deleted song demos by Gilkyson. Finally there is a short featurette on the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
The second disc is broken into two sections: "Man Village" is the Backstage Disney section, for the adults, and "Jungle Fun" is the Games & Activities area for the kids. A 45-minute long documentary "The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book" takes a very nice in-depth look at the development of the film. There is a lot in common with the commentary, but between the two, you get a good sense of the history of the project. "Disney's Kipling" is a 15-minute look at the differences between the original book, an earlier production of the film created by screenwriter Bill Peet that never got made (but was storyboarded), and the final film. "The Lure of The Jungle Book" runs just under 10-minutes, and features many current animators lavishing praise on the film for its influences. "Mowgli's Return to the Wild" is a small featurette with voice actor Bruce Rietherman discussing his current career as a documentary filmmaker, and the influences from his father (Jungle Book director Walter Rietherman). "Frank & Ollie" is a very short archival segment where legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson discuss their philosophy on animating for film. Six different "Art Galleries" cover the different aspects of the production, including the progression in Visual Development, Character Design, Storyboard Art, Layouts and Backgrounds, Production Photos and Publicity.
In "Jungle Fun", there are features for the kids. "Baloo's Virtual Swingin' Jungle Cruise" is a collection of four DVD games: "Kaa-Zen-Tration" is a somewhat frustrating timed reaction game; "Hathi's Boot Camp" is a Simon-Says pattern repeating type of game; "Buzzard Shop Quartet" is a number game, and "Louie's Lounge" is a rather unclear game where you need to hit arrows or something. "DisneyPedia: Junglemania!" runs almost 15-minutes long and shows the real-life behavior of the actual jungle creatures in the film. Two "The Jungle Book Fun with Language" games (and two more on DVD-ROM) allow kids to make connections between written and spoken words, accentuated with clips from the film and imagery.
Overall, The Jungle Book has finally gotten the treatment it deserves. There is a lot of information provided between the commentary tracks and featurettes, and enough bonus material to keep you engaged for a while. The true gems are the deleted songs, and the new transfer - while cropped anamorphically - makes it worth the purchase.
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