Walt Disney Productions (October 18 1967), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (October 2 2007), 2 disc set, 78 mins plus supplements, 1.75:1 cropped anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99
“Do you like Kipling?”, once asked the Muppets, to which the reply was, “I don’t know, I’ve never Kipled”! Well, Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book is Kipling well and truly Kipled – a fast and furious (or should that be “furry-ous”) version of his most famous book, filled with truly toe-tapping, memorable music. Yeah, man!
The Sweatbox Review:
For all those crying out about the supposed lapse between the Walt Disney Studios’ last hand-drawn animated feature Home On The Range and the wait for the big comeback with the clumsily titled The Princess And The Frog, let me take you back to the mid 1960s, when audiences had a similar wait between feature cartoons from the Mouse Factory. Discounting the featurette Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree and the animated sequence from Mary Poppins, it was a full four and a half years between the release of 1963’s The Sword In The Stone and The Jungle Book in 1967 – back at a time when audiences didn’t have the direct to video fare to fill in some gaps or even the prospect of an Enchanted and a new Goofy short!
Of course, The Jungle Book was a massive hit on its release, possibly precisely because audiences had been waiting so long for a truly classic Disney movie after the well received One Hundred And One Dalmatians in 1961 and the less than enthusiastically accepted Sword In The Stone. Mary Poppins and Pooh Bear had brought back the Disney name as an honest to goodness household guarantee of family friendly entertainment, and the cards were well stacked in The Jungle Book’s favor. It quickly became a legendary movie, and is still revered today: if there’s any animated film that repeatedly turns up on many non-animation “best film” lists, it’s this one, shared by only a couple of others from Walt’s earlier days.
The Jungle Book is virtually critic proof, which is why this review will primarily deal with the way it has been brought to disc as opposed to yet another analysing of the movie itself. What can be said is that there’s another clear reason for its success: it was famously the last animated film Walt was personally involved in, from the story to the finished animation. Sadly, Walt did not live to see the completed picture, but it bears his imprint just as strongly as the earlier fine examples of his art: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Peter Pan. Perhaps a lot of this was to do with the fact that he took more of an interest in the production once an earlier, much more faithful to the book version was deemed too dark for Disney. He added the Sherman Brothers – hot off the Oscar-winning Mary Poppins – to the mix, turned the movie around, and gave it the animated life it had been lacking before. Walt wasn’t looking for a remake of the grand epic that Alexander Korda had brought to the screen with Sabu in 1942. He wanted a rumble in the jungle Disney style!
Apart from that significantly monumental last, The Jungle Book was also a film of many firsts. It was the first to play hard and fast with its source material: arguably Dumbo had been an original story, and The Sword In The Stone was a translation from a book that had already contained much dry humor. The Jungle Book took the basic requirements from its foundation and then threw them out! After storyman Bill Peet and songwriter Terry Gilkyson had structured their original version, Walt famously told the new people coming onto the show not to read Kipling’s book and to “just have fun with it”. This allowed them to be aware of the basic plot structure and characters, but gave them the freedom to shape those characters as they saw fit, and fill the story elements with pleasing diversions.
The emphasis was on creating a popularist, mainstream motion picture – there was no hiding the fact that Jungle Book was shoved in this direction to build on the mammoth success of Poppins – and it certainly set the pace and laid the groundwork to allow the later, almost spoof nature, of more recent Disney comedies such as Hercules, Aladdin and The Emperor’s New Groove. The quick turnaround from darker adaptation to loose “inspired by” status gave the Shermans the room to add their brilliant line-up of fantastic, bouncy songs to the film, replacing Gilkyson’s more lethargic score. The Bare Necessities, ironically the one song held over that the Shermans didn’t write, became the movie’s signature number, but their contributions included the perhaps even more catchy I Wan’na Be Like You and the beautifully haunting My Own Home, sultry and transfixing enough to draw young man-cab Mowgli into the man village at the end of his journey.
In fact, I Wan’na Be Like You is actually such a high point that the rest of the film is in danger of not living up to what has come before. The plot is put into motion by the discovery, of panther Bagheera, of the human child Mowgli, lost as a baby after an expedition raft has met with an unfortunate end. He takes the baby to a pack of wolves, who treat him as one of their own until the time comes for the now adolescent Mowgli to be returned to his own kind: to the man village on the other side of the jungle. Long a watchful eye, Bagheera volunteers for the task of delivering Mowgli safely, but his plans are soon scuppered when the boy finds out he’s being shipped out and he runs off, only to literally bump into bouncy old Baloo the bear, a hobo bum who lives the easy life. Becoming fast friends, Mowgli and Baloo attempt to live their carefree lives their own way, but the jungle is a treacherous place and Baloo isn’t the cleverest of animals. Soon, Mowgli is in the sights of a barmy bunch of marching elephants, a crazed from hunger python Kaa the snake, evolution greedy monkeys and, most dangerously of all, Shere Kahn, the feared tiger who’s hatred for humankind is legendary…
The first half of The Jungle Book rattles along at amazing pace, with gorgeous production design, fantastic character animation, succinct dialogue – it all works just as brilliantly as any of Walt’s other features made in the 30 year span between 1937 and 1967. But in keeping The Bare Necessities in place, it means that Mowgli and Baloo’s encounters with the clearly addicted to bananas King Louie of the apes, puts the literal show-stopper I Wan’na Be Like You almost right next door: in double dose of such energy infusion that the film’s then immediately post-party scenes feel rather drab. True, these moments are supposed to then kickstart the secondary plot – the wrath of Kahn – into action, and they work suitably as the pivotal emotional scenes they are supposed to be, but it can not be denied that the build up to the eventual climax is missing some of the earlier fizz.
Always enjoyable throughout the movie, including its handful of slower moments, is the cast, for which The Jungle Book also scores another big first. Walt’s films always used popular entertainers of the day in his animated films, and often these performers were given billing on the posters, from Leopold Stokowski being a big draw in conducting Fantasia to a number of popular radio personalities that propped up the soundtracks of the 1940s Package Features. But The Jungle Book was the first of Walt’s films to really promote an all-star cast of well-known voice talent in its publicity, even going as far as to have the vocalists pictured with their animated counterparts, who themselves were given the characteristics of their performers.
Chief on this list has to be George Sanders, the “professional Hollywood cad” who had made a big name for himself portraying stiff upper lip Brits with a crafty edge in films ranging from the early The Saint and The Falcon series, All About Eve, Ivanhoe and Moonfleet, to a string of silky-voiced heroes or villains, most notably in Village Of The Damned, Disney’s own In Search Of The Castaways, and the classic Inspector Clouseau comedy A Shot In The Dark. A slide into television playing the same old roles (Mr Freeze on Batman was where he could have most fun) eventually depressed the man, who took his own life after making the absurd, has to be seen to be believed Psychomania in the early 1970s. The Jungle Book was arguably his last hoorah, and although he’s playing to type, he does so magnificently, laying down all the laconic rules for slippery British-accented villains for decades to come.
The rest of the cast were also picked for their general personalities: as Baloo the bear, Phil Harris certainly physically fit the role! While never a mainstream feature actor, Harris was a huge draw on television, as a singer, comedian and bandleader, and his voice work here made him a Disney favorite who would go on to vocalise almost carbon copy personalities in the Studio’s next two movies, The AristoCats and Robin Hood. Again, he’s basically playing a loose, easy going version of himself, but Walt was never one to hear the animated personality in a vocalist’s performance, and Harris is irreplaceable as the good-natured, big-hearted bear. As Baloo’s pain in the neck nemesis, Louis Prima had come from a similar background to Harris, being a massively popular jazz recording artist. Without much prior acting experience, and no other credits after his turn in The Jungle Book, Prima’s is perhaps the real star performance. He’s a totally whacked out, addicted orangutan who’s eager for evolution to take its course sooner rather than later, and he’s willing to go to drastic lengths to make it happen, kidnapping Mowgli along the way. King Louis is all about the performance, including the barnstorming I Wan’na Be Like You, and Prima’s cameo in the movie is such a high point that the rest of it is in danger of feeling flat without his presence! Certainly it was the case that so much of the animated character was based on Prima’s animated performance that the singer’s estate later entered into the financial compensation business when it was felt he hadn’t received the full recognition he’d deserved, leading to a settlement to avoid the postponement of a home video and soundtrack release, and the absence of the character from the belated DVD sequel The Jungle Book 2 in 2003. That was a shame, since Louis’ character brings so much to the film that it would have been fun to see him again, voiced by the only person I could ever hear filling those boots: Christopher Walken. Go on, close your eyes, listen, and tell me you can’t pick up the similarities!
Without doubt, this is the best ensemble cast in a Disney film until The Lion King came roaring along in the mid-90s, and it really makes the film. The remaining voices were all, for the most part, from the Disney repertory players, though with distinguished credits of their own. Sebastian Cabot’s authoritative tones had been felt since the 1940s in the Old Mother Riley comedies, he’d co-starred with Sanders in Ivanhoe and a number of other notable film and television appearances included Kismet, Johnny Tremain, The Time Machine and Twice Told Tales. As Bagheera in The Jungle Book, his big link to Disney was as a Narrator on such projects as The Sword In The Stone and all of the original Winnie The Pooh shorts including the compilation feature The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh. Joining him was his Pooh colleague, the legendary Disney good-luck charm Sterling Holloway, as the smooth and slippery Kaa, who had been voicing characters since 1941’s Dumbo, as had Hathi’s wife Winifred, Verna Felton, who played various roles in Disney films as diverse as Cinderella’s kindly Fairy Godmother to the vicious Queen Of Hearts in Alice In Wonderland. Sadly, The Jungle Book proved to be her final film too: she died exactly one day before Walt.
Disney had assigned the direction of the film to one of his Nine Old Men, Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, who would continue to serve as the unit’s director, if not the actual force behind the films, for the next decade or so. As Mowgli, a bit of nepotism came into play when the part went to his young son Bruce, himself already a veteran of the initial American version of Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree and following in the footsteps of his brothers Richard and Robert, who had joint-voiced Wart in The Sword In The Stone. It’s clear as to why Reitherman’s direction was chosen: he simply knows how to stage a scene in the most economical way, bringing to it just enough freshness to keep things interesting. Though the later animated films from the 1970s could well be labelled as being episodic, Woolie’s camera always picks the most appealing angle to convey the story’s intentions within a scene, and for all the negative chat that may have sprung up about how he ran the unit at the time, it’s down to him that The Jungle Book was completed as intended, and that it was a big enough hit to ensure the survival of animation at the Walt Disney Studios – something that had been in serious doubt after Walt passed away almost a year before release. Certainly Reitherman’s knack was passed on to Bruce: Mowgli is now back with the animals as a well-regarded nature cinematographer in his own right.
As with Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book sees everyone playing at the top of their game. The story may rise and dip on occasion, but all the other elements are here in force. Even the animation, which is rendered in the Xerox process that reproduces the animators’ sketchier lines direct to the screen, seems to be the right way to go. Developed, and perfect, for the contemporary stylised approach of One Hundred And One Dalmatians, the film that introduced the Ub Iwerks innovation, the Xerox look was too coarse for The Sword In The Stone and, perhaps, Mary Poppins, but it found a place in the storybook world of Winnie The Pooh and, I think, in The Jungle Book: certainly the freestyle lines have an electric energy that matches the tone of the picture and really brings Baloo’s fur to rough, fuzzy, hairy life! There’s also the amazing early morning scene where Bagheera encourages Baloo to face facts, and the whole sunrise is happening subtly behind the character animation and the dialogue simply by having each successive background painting brighten up between the cuts back and forth – it’s just so stunningly created and executed.
Almost like the post-Bare Necessities/I Wan’na Be Like You sapping of energy in the film, after Walt’s passing the Studio foundered for a while, searching for direction. The projects Walt had been working on – the EPCOT park, The Happiest Millionaire, the Pirates Of The Caribbean theme park ride – were finished up to varying degrees of success, and it would take a good year or two before the old hands (Ken Anderson with The AristoCats and Robert Stevenson with The Love Bug) really set the studio back on track, at least for a while, with a number of highpoints that continue to outweigh the often over-maligned output of the proceeding decade. If it wasn’t to be until the Eisner/Wells/Katzenberg era, from 1984 onwards, that Disney would jump back on top, then The Jungle Book is really the watershed movie between the Walt of old, and the Studio we know today. It serves as a fitting tribute to a master showman’s 30 years of animated feature developments, as well as the blueprint for all those that continue to follow under its long, long shadow today.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Though all the fanfare points to this release being “the first time on 2-disc DVD”, this isn’t the first time The Jungle Book has been made available on disc, and for many with that original Limited Issue presentation, you may just want to hold on to it for reasons that will become apparent below. This new edition is also billed as a 40th Anniversary release – a nice and, for once, perfectly appropriate sentiment, coming as it does within the same release month as the film’s original theatrical release in 1967.
Disc One kicks off with the usual slew of previews, bypassed by hitting the menu button on your remote. From their own Sneak Peek options, the included trailers are for the upcoming return to traditional animation, Enchanted, plus DVD releases of Meet The Robinsons, Ratatouille, The AristoCats: Special Edition (in cropped 1.75:1), High School Musical 2, The Santa Clause 3, Return To Never-Land and Adventures By Disney and Movie Rewards promos. The disc’s 16×9 menus aren’t anything special, certainly not full of the interaction we’ve enjoyed in previous Disney special editions, but do entertain with generously timed musical score excerpts. In the Bonus Features, a promo for the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund is so much more than what it sounds, going fairly in-depth (for something lasting only three minutes) to marry up animals with Disney’s philosophy and exploring their connections over the years. It’s a very nicely edited piece that makes a point while not sounding preachy, and sprinkles a bit of Walt’s own magic throughout.
The big bonus for hard-core fans will be the full length Audio Commentary with original filmmakers Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), Richard Sherman (song composer) and current Disney animator and Jungle Book’s biggest fan, the charming Andreas Deja. This is one heck of a track – not filled with completely technical information but a spirited discussion in which all three allow each other to speak freely, with all participants bringing up vital behind the scenes stories, generous insights and a jovial spirit. This is the most enjoyable track I’ve had the pleasure of hearing since the Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary, and it’s a definite keeper. Reitherman displays a solid knowledge of animation that reveals he continues to follow developments long after his initial foray into the medium here, while Sherman brings his usual exuberance (and a piano!) to fill us in on many of the time anecdotes, and Deja is just in awe of the whole thing, drawing attention to the many master animators and who did what on the picture. Even more fascinating are the archival comments from director Woolie Reitherman and animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, who all sound as if they were recorded yesterday. Their comments bring weight to the track, but all of it is very much brimming with substantial information and analysis. Excellent.
A big selling point is the inclusion of a Deleted Scene: The Lost Character, Rocky The Rhino, though why this is being billed as anything so special is a mystery. Animated movies go through so many changes – indeed The Jungle Book was, at first, a very different picture remember – so that a character moment was ousted is just part of the process, and Rocky wasn’t a character that particularly pleased Walt himself, who tossed him out almost immediately from the re-tooled, musical comedy version. Nevertheless, without the hype, it’s clear as to why the six-minute sequence was cut – it just wasn’t needed. Also, it’s presentation here is more frantic than it needs to be, with the narrator barking our the scene’s intentions while the camera whips and zips along a storyboard as the voices play out (it’s not explained whether we are hearing Frank Fontaine’s originally intended tracks or not).
It’s almost saved at the half way mark by the original, Beatles-inspired take on the Vultures’ That’s What Friends Are For, but even this is more curiosity value than anything else, being awfully dated to 1965 or so. Left intact, this whole sequence would have stopped the movie dead in its tracks at a point where things are already in drastic need of picking up. Walt’s sense of story prevailed, and he knew it was time to move on to the climax of the story, and final showdown with Shere Kahn. The presentation here doesn’t help, being all a bit hit and miss and feeling a little desperate in its need to overly dress it up and make it all fun. Unfortunately, it’s certainly not the high point of this set, and a more straightforward storyreel version might have conveyed the intentions less elaborately, but much more clearly.
There’s more unused material in the Music & More section, with a series of Deleted Songs. Written by Terry Gilkyson for the original, darker version of The Jungle Book, there is unfortunately no placing in context of any of the demo recordings heard here – a frankly poor show. It’s not even provided who we’re hearing singing these tracks, though one must assume it’s Gilkyson himself, at least in part. From a much more sombre opening, Brothers All, through a strange lethargic demo of The Bare Necessities, to the decidedly ponderous Shere Kahn introspective The Mighty Hunters, these tracks give the impression that Gilkyson was a serious sort of fellow whose style would have easily fit the epic nature of Sleeping Beauty, had The Jungle Book gone that route.
Seven full demo tracks, accompanied with one still storyboard image appropriate to the song for each duration, are included for a 21 minute total – a fascinating look into a Jungle Book that could have been, but thankfully wasn’t. I’d heard a couple of these before, and it must be said that while Gilkyson may have gotten an Oscar nomination for his sole surviving song in the finished movie, the rest of these aren’t classic Disney by any stretch, with the more enjoyable being Monkey See, Monkey Do and the romantic ballad I Knew I Belonged To Her, but there’s something more old-fashioned about these than the timeless, bouncy songs the Shermans provided for the final film.
Before we sign off on the disc, we have a little more music: a Disney Song Selection running through all the songs – except, bizarrely Trust In Me for some reason – with optional onscreen lyrics for just over 13 minutes, and a I Wan’na Be Like You Music Video, performed by the Jonas Brothers from the DisneyMania 5 album, that desecrates the original song in no short order. Truly, this is awful, awful stuff, bending the melody out of recognition and with not an ounce of infectious fun that the song usually contains. Much better versions have been released over the years – why not any of them? Oh, it’s to push another Disney product, okay… It’s like, whatever…
Onto Disc Two, and after a few years of priming everyone to look for Backstage Disney as the source for behind the scenes material, The Jungle Book junks this approach to present paths to the Man Village (otherwise known as Backstage Disney) and Jungle Fun (Games & Activities). Getting the kids’ games out of the way first, Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise is made up of several smaller activities based around other characters from the movie. Although there’s a fun, if pointless, new version of The Bare Necessities and a decent mix of old and new voices and animation, I found most of the stuff here to be more trouble that it was worth, virtually unplayable and without any amusement or reward factor. Indeed, the opening Kaa game simply wouldn’t work on my PC, with Hathi’s elephant ordering game overly tedious, and only the vultures (incorrectly called buzzards here) activity being at least playable. The King Louie challenge didn’t even make sense to me given the instructions, so I gave up rather than wasting my time. It’s a shame, since the interlinking sections were obviously well labored upon, but I guess someone forgot to make the actual games any fun.
DisneyPedia: Junglemania! is aimed at children, but covers a lot of informational ground in an entertaining fashion. Running 14:19, the featurette combines generous footage from The Jungle Book and archival live-action nature material and looks at all the major animals represented in the animated movie and their place in the jungles of India. Fun With Learning Games completes this section, with four games aimed at very young children. These are actually more useful than the fancy ones above, being very easy tools to help develop text and vocal association by image prodding. Four games are included, with the final two selected via the InterActual DVD-ROM interface bundled on the disc.
It’s into the Backstage Disney Man Village for the remainder of the bonuses, and the meatiest collectors’ features. Presented as five chapters of a longer documentary, The Bare Necessities: The Making Of The Jungle Book is a suitably comprehensive look at the production. The way to view this really is as one piece, which runs just over 46 minutes, and as such it really delves deep into the making of the film. Peet’s earlier version is touched upon as is the switch to the breezier final format, but the real joy here is in the sheer amount of original filmmaker interviews included, by way of new recordings (they even track down Clint Howard) and 1980s conversations from the Disney Family Album series. This is a very special piece – certainly the best Platinum documentary in quite a while – and valid exactly for being able to hear from those directly involved in the production. We also listen to current Disney fans Deja, Glen Keane and Will Finn, who express how the movie affected them, as well as from various historians including Brian Sibley and John Canemaker, who describe how the film influenced animation as a medium. While some of the vintage material overlaps with that sampled in the audio commentary, there’s literally tons of information here, and thankfully the heaps of praise on the film itself is kept to a minimum to allow the production stories to roll freely. It’s easily the best supplement here.
Disney’s Kipling, running for 15 minutes, focuses on Peet and Gilkyson’s original 1963 version, comparing it to both Rudyard Kipling’s book and how the final film turned out. It’s a good featurette, much less frantic than the Rocky The Rhino deleted scene even though it includes a bit of it, and a fascinating look between all three versions, playing up the obvious changes but also interestingly the eventual and sometimes surprising similarities. Discussing the final film, The Lure Of The Jungle Book speaks to the animators of today, who further express their admiration for the personalities, music and overall accomplishment. Deja, Keane and Finn pop back, as well as Eric Goldberg, James Baxter (currently being welcomed back into the fold it seems), big Milt Kahl fan Brad Bird, and Sergio Pablos, who explains how Colonel Hathi inspired his animation of Tantor in The Jungle Book’s most recent filmic cousin, Tarzan. Again, rather than just heaping praise, there’s some healthy analysis going on too in this 9:26 piece, which adds to the appreciation of the work these guys are doing today.
Catching up with Mowgli voice Bruce Reitherman in the present, Mowgli’s Return To The Wild works both as a look at the real life cinematography career he currently enjoys and as a tribute to his Dad, Woolie, of course the director of The Jungle Book. The five minute clip is shot out on location with Reitherman seen in his day job, filming the exploits of animals in the natural world, an empathy for which he believes he picked up somewhat as a result of working with the animal-friendly Disney Studios, and speaking about the influence his father’s work instilled in him as a filmmaker. It’s another well done piece, but someone seemed to forget to ride the music volume when Reitherman speaks, meaning his voice is continually fighting a background wash of stirring, inspirational orchestral accompaniment that is both overly grand and overly loud.
A series of Art Galleries provide a further exploration of the film’s development and release process, covering the usual topics, but seemingly not as in-depth as usual. We’re presented with 56 Visual Development stills (with much from Peet’s grander-scale earlier version) and a Character Design section that bunches 63 images together rather than break them up on a per-character basis. Storyboard Art presents 78 panels of a varying standard, ranging from off the cuff sketches to close to final color images, and Layouts & Backgrounds offers the chance to study the magnificently simple yet effective production design with 45 paintings. A generous 40 Production Photos show the artists, crew, vocal talents and musicians doing what they did during production, though the final Publicity section feels short-changed, with only 14 images. A big draw for the film were the star names, who even got poster billing, and they were all photographed with their animated counterparts for marketing. We get one of each here, and a couple of cel set ups, but the many, many different posters from original and reissue release sadly go completely amiss here.
Finally, a straight lift from the ten-year old collectors’ LaserDisc set is Frank & Ollie Discuss Character Animation, which looks to be a sequence from a longer program, probably The Disney Family Album from the early 1980s. The almost four minute clip has the Two Old Men in an animator’s office going through the original drawings of Baloo boogieing into frame to meet Mowgli. As Frank flips the drawings, Ollie reacts with fresh enthusiasm for the scene, as if viewing it for the first time. Though obviously staged, this does picture the two great guys’ collaborative process and the evident feeling of being proud with their work.
Pretty much all of The Jungle Book’s video-based extras have been produced in HD-ready 1.78:1, with classic clips and archive footage aspect ratio converted (in example: chopped off) to fit the wider frame, but maddeningly it’s all presented in 4×3 letterboxed format only! With the film boasting a new widescreen transfer for the first time, one would have appreciated the entire experience in 16×9, so as it is the decision to feature 4×3 material, cropped to 16×9 and then only present it in 4×3 anyway is a baffling one that doesn’t really make any sense!
WHAT’S MISSING?: As always with the Platinum Editions, the move to two title releases a year has seen many original mainstays fall by the wayside as the producers of the discs strive to do a good job with the limited time they have available to them. But there are always things that could and should have been included, and many of them things that have surfaced on previous releases.
The Frank & Ollie clip outlined above was featured before on a 30th Anniversary CAV LaserDisc edition, for which the 15 minute Making Of A Musical Masterpiece was also created. This was a decent potted history that would have supplemented the material on the disc nicely, perhaps even being the perfect mini-doc for the first disc.
The LD also featured an original theatrical trailer, a glaring omission here. The Jungle Book has seen several reissues throughout its 40 years, and while the Snow White Platinum Edition was great for including at least one trailer from each of its reissues, here we get none even though there are at least three I know of that are all fun and exciting. Indeed, the film is under-represented by any final publicity materials in the set.
What would have been super fun is the 1993 music video for the record chart release The Jungle Book Groove, a terrific pop track that sampled The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You and inter-played them to stunning effect. Why on earth this single isn’t represented here in any way is a complete and baffling mystery as it would have even been welcomed by purists.
Another CD release, of the original soundtrack, featured an interview with the Sherman Brothers. Obviously cut down to fit on the disc, their segment also included some original demo material, which would have been another major bonus here.
Throughout the documentary and hinted at in the stills is the footage shot of Louis Prima and his band in the recording studio. This is pretty legendary material, and it would have been absolutely fantastic to have seen that included, along with any other remaining fragments of The Jungle Book production footage. The Jungle Book seems to have been a well-documented production, all the more frustrating that we only catch glimpses of such material in these supplements.
There are also notable Disney TV programs that deal with various topics that could have been included for collectors’ purposes, such as The Disney Family Album, a woefully untapped series that I can only hope is being saved for a later prestigious release.
Lastly, with only the film really taking up any major video space on the first disc, we really should have also had a full frame ratio edition included. While this is usually something to be frowned upon, there’s a very valid reason for both widescreen and negative aspects to have been included, as is discuss below.
The fall Platinum Editions used to be treated to a deluxe gift set releases, but alas the trend to release all the series’ titles in plain old slipcovers continues here. Not fair: in the UK, there’s such a suitably lavish set being put out that includes a book and gift set packaging [pictured right], though they do have to wait until November for that.
What we do get here in region one land is a – it has to be said – pretty garish slipcase, all foil embossed and quite over the top. Inside we don’t get the Disney DVD Insider, which seems to have been discontinued, but a booklet full of adverts for upcoming releases and a Golden Adventure Sweepstakes brochure with a jungle hint to the design. The Platinum standard DVD Guide opens up to six pages (from a single tri-fold sheet) to outline each major bonus feature, a “tree plan” of each disc’s content, and a bit on how special the Platinum Editions are (so special, in fact, that after One Hundred And One Dalmatians next spring, they’re palming off a reissue of Sleeping Beauty into the line). It should also be pointed out that the correct title for Disney’s 1961 dog-napped movie is that full worded moniker and not the snappy, market-happy 101 Dalmatians (they’re confusing it with the remakes and sequels).
The overall packaging does the job in as much as the front design continues the current trend for a big blocky logo smacked right in the center of a character collage, and at least this time we get some luxury embossing on the slipcover as opposed to the flat and boring simple reproductions granted to The Little Mermaid and Lady And The Tramp. However, the slip doesn’t open up like a book – surely a given on something called The Jungle BOOK – so basically once again another title in the apparently prestigious Platinum Edition line gets a different treatment to all the others!
Ink And Paint:
Well, now…here’s where we hit a snag. From 1955 onwards, the vast majority of Hollywood movies were produced in a dual aspect ratio that allowed a standard Academy 1.37:1 image to be cropped to widescreen in the theater and shown with extra head room (and sometimes unwanted picture area at the bottom) in later TV airings. From One Hundred And One Dalmatians in 1961, Disney followed this route, formatting his films from a 1.37 negative ratio which allowed the cropping of the image top and bottom for theatrical exhibition and revealing this information for television screens. Since TV was the intended medium that would run the film forevermore after the initial cinema release – VHS being little more than a blink in JVC’s eye at the time – it could be argued that the majority of shots were created more with this eventual presentation in mind. However, with the move to widescreen sets that approximate theatrical screen dimensions, and especially the native widescreen high-definition formats, companies are now looking at how much content they can “re-purpose” to fill the newer, wider home displays.
Already we’ve seen the 1.37:1 ratio of Robin Hood cropped to the 1.75:1 aspect ready for Disney’s eventual Blu-Ray Disc releases, and The AristoCats looks to be going the same way next spring. The Jungle Book is likewise – after years of being available on home video in nothing less than its “original theatrical ratio” of 1.37:1 – presented here in its “original theatrical ratio” of 1.75:1, actually a weird aspect that never officially existed in movie houses to begin with. And I would even contend any use of the term “original theatrical ratio” since I saw the 1993 reissue of The Jungle Book in a theater and it was windowboxed within the wide frame, the same way as a standard 1.33 image is shown on widescreen displays, with black bars running vertically down along the sides.
Certainly the argument would be moot if we could actually choose for ourselves which version to run. However, after years of offering up truly redundant pan-and-scan transfers (Lady And The Tramp’s pointless “half a movie” springs to mind), what does Disney do when there’s a true need to present both versions of a dual aspect production? It ditches the original negative version, leaving us only with this new, hi-def ready picture. I would doubt this is even the original, as intended theatrical framing. It’s true that we see a little more on the sides, a beneficial trade off between actually seeing the full width of the 1.37 image instead of the 1.33 fullscreen framing we’ve had all these years, but at the loss of too much information north and south.
Framing is, at times, very tight, especially at the top, and I noticed several instances of retrospective re-framing to balance out the image that strays from what we’d get if this was a true 1.75 matted image. Mostly, reframing has taken place so as not to lose character’s heads, even though they still remain far too close to the top of frame. I also noted at least two or three counts of new camera moves – tilts vertically up and down the frame to take into account the needed height to properly show all the intended action. All of this wouldn’t be as noticeable or problematic if we had simply had the choice of the original fullframe edition on the same disc, just as Disney has done so in the past.
This all said, The Jungle Book’s restoration is top notch – the first time I think we can really say that about any Platinum Edition without any sort of caveat. Colors are locked solid, lines pop off the screen and grain is minimal, but not at the expense of taking away the original feel: the inking of Baloo’s fur remains perceptible due to the hand coloring process, just as it should be. And Baloo remains grey, and not the Ba-lue color he was erroneously given in the flatter video sequel. I did pick up some color imbalances – there’s an awful color shift bang in the middle of the I Wan’na Be Like You number just after Baloo storms in that could have been looked at – but overall this doesn’t come with all the issues surrounding previous Platinum restorations.
If only we’d been given both valid ratios, this would have been perfect, hence the reason for those with the original LaserDisc or Limited Edition DVD to keep those older copies! Perhaps a 1.66:1 ratio would have been the appropriate compromise, presenting an anamorphic widescreen image while retaining something closer to the original framing – indeed, check the shot of Mowgli being thrown through the trees by the monkeys around the 31:33 mark and try to convince me that someone involved in the transfer wasn’t thinking of going that route!
Just as The Jungle Book has been given a new look, it’s aurally been updated with a new Enhanced Home Theater soundtrack. As usual, this only really pushes certain things to the fore, and as such it does the job. Although released in mono, the movie was originally recorded in stereo (as it was previously reissued in theaters and released on LaserDisc) so they had good elements to start from scratch with. George Bruns’ music is treated best of all, sound as if it was recorded yesterday, but I was shocked at the amount of hiss on some of the music numbers, especially I Wan’na Be Like You and Trust In Me, and can’t believe that somewhere in the Disney Vaults better tracks exist for a better mix.
I’ve certainly heard these songs sound better on LaserDisc, Compact Disc and indeed in the 1993 cinema reissue, where the mix was flying all over the place and really benefited from a surround track. Luckily, we’re also presented with the mono track, which doesn’t feature any hiss at all even if it’s not as wide and playful. But why no stereo mix, even from the previous LaserDisc or theatrical reissues? Again, the ball has been dropped in favor of creating a new fangled 5.1 track that really isn’t the best that could have been achieved. French and Spanish dubs are included, with English for the hearing impaired for both the movie and, in a welcome touch, the audio commentary and selected Disc Two bonus features.
The Jungle Book’s Platinum Edition, for any faults, is a clear step back up after the lacklustre recent inclusions of Cinderella, Lady And The Tramp and The Little Mermaid. The movie itself is pure gold, which is what would give the overall set a straight 10, though for my money it’s not quite perfect Disney. The second half, after the dual whammy of The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You, really does suck out all life for a good few minutes until things pick up with the exciting climax, knocking a point off the main feature score, for me at least. But this is as good as it gets in many ways, and The Jungle Book is a lasting – and very fitting – final tribute to Walt Disney. Even if this time around we should have been given a choice of viewing options, this set presents a fine restoration of that film, and sprinkles a healthy amount of genuine added value material. Despite a couple of missing pages, this Book has a solid spine and the print reads fresh and crisp as ever…and in animation collection terms, it truly is a bare necessity!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?