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The Jungle Book (1967)
DVD Released: 10/2/2007
All ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/3/2007, Updated on 2/6/2014
There's no denying the fact that the pacing of films has changed over the last 30 years. And as much as many would hate to admit it, this change can easily be traced to the styles of music videos. Constant camera movement and quick cuts abound in videos and these conceits have made their way into movies. Thus, when someone who is used to modern cinema watches an older film, these differences are quite obvious. This change in style has made its way into animation as well, and one glance at The Jungle Book tells us that the film is from a different age.
The Jungle Book is set in the jungles of India. One day, Bagheera the panther (voiced by Sebastian Cabot) is prowling the jungle, when he hears an odd noise. He finds a human baby, whom he deems a "man cub", in the wreckage of a canoe. He takes the baby to a family of wolves who have just recently had a litter, and the wolves raise the baby as one of their own. The story then leaps ahead 10 years. The "man cub", Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman), has grown up in the jungle and considers it his home. Bagheera continues to watch out for Mowgli. When Bagheera learns that the tiger Shere Khan (voiced by George Sanders), who has a well-known hatred for humans, has returned to the jungle, he insists that Mowgli leave the jungle and go to a "man village". Mowgli is resistant to this idea and fights Bagheera on it. As Bagheera and Mowgli travel through the jungle, they meet a sly snake named Kaa (voiced by Sterling Holloway) and a bear named Baloo (voiced by Phil Harris). (Are there bears in the Indian jungle?) Mowgli immediately takes a liking to the free-spirited Baloo, and he decides to leave Bagheera and go with the bear. Despite the fact that Bagheera wants to rid himself of Mowgli, he finds that he truly cares for the boy and decides that he must protect Mowgli from Shere Khan.
It typically isn't hard to spot one of the older Disney animated films, as they have a certain look, and in many of them, the corny chorus music is a dead give-away of the age. But, despite the age, many of them are still technically impressive and very entertaining. If one is so inclined, this could be called the "'Disney Magic". Walt Disney died during the production of The Jungle Book. Perhaps this is one way to explain the lack of "magic" in this film.
Many Disney animated films are known for their songs, and when you hear those songs, you immediately think of that movie. But, few songs have the power of "Bare Necessities" (which was nominated for an Oscar). When one hears this song, they immediately think of The Jungle Book and most likely picture the lovable bear Baloo dancing and singing. The song "I Wan'na Be Like You", which is sung by King Louis, is another great song from the movie, and one which would be instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen the movie. These bouncy songs provide an undeniable amount of energy to the movie.
But, these two songs are the only real bright spots in what is otherwise a dull and uninspired movie. It's easy to pinpoint the problems in The Jungle Book. The writers have attempted to take the various tales in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book and create a solid narrative. However, the story still feels very disjointed. As Mowgli travels through the jungle, he meets many different characters, most of whom simply come and go. There are new characters being introduced over an hour into this 78 minute film. Do to this structure, we learn very little about the characters, even the main ones. Other than their dominant personality traits, we know next to nothing about Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo. Moreso than any other Disney film, the "story" seems to be an excuse to get to the next musical number. And then we have the pacing of the film. This movie, even at just 78 minutes, is slow. To make matters worse, and this may sound odd until you see the film again and truly notice it, there is no ambient sound in the jungle. These characters are in the jungle and there's no noise! Thus, during the dialogue scenes, one character will say something, totally silent pause, and then the other character will say something. This instantly caused my mind to begin to wander.
The ultimate litmus test to a film like this is the reaction of children. I sat down with my two kids to watch this as a "family movie night" and within 15 minutes, they asked if they could go outside. Oddly, as they were leaving, one began to sing "Bare Necessities". Yes, The Jungle Book has some great musical numbers, and the characters do have a certain charm, but the unstructured story and the snail's pace of the film make it difficult to watch today. If anything, I put this film in the second tier of "Disney Classics".
The Jungle Book swings onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. This newly released 2-disc "40th Anniversary Edition" replaces the long out-of-print DVD release from 1999. The film has been letterboxed at 1.75:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The DVD box proclaims "All New Digital Restoration with Enhanced Picture..." and for once, I believe them. The image here is incredibly sharp and clear. The image shows no grain and no defects from the source prints. These older films are usually marred with problems, but nothing jumps out here, and one has to look very closely to see minute faults with the animation (such as where pencil lines weren't erased completely). The colors look excellent as well, most notably the lush greens of the jungle. I would venture to guess that the movie didn't look this good when it was shown in theaters in 1967. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which has an "Enhanced Home Theater Mix". The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The songs in the film sound fine. Despite being a 5.1 track, the bulk of the sound still comes from the center channel. This is due to the lack of other sounds. There is little stereo action here and I didn't detect any overt surround sound. There were some mild subwoofer effects.
This 2-disc release of The Jungle Book abounds with extras. Disc 1 has an AUDIO COMMENTARY with actor Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), composer Richard M. Sherman, and animator Andreas Deja (who didn't work on the film). This is an OK commentary as Sherman can speak about the music and Deja knows enough about the history of the film to provide some anecdotes. We also get archival comments thrown in from animators (most likely now deceased) who worked on the movie. "Deleted Scene - The Lost Character: Rocky the Rhino" (7 minutes) offers storyboards and narration which describes a rhinoceros who was to have appeared in the vulture scene. There are also 7 "Deleted Songs" (21 minutes), which are basically audio only. There is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "I Wan'na Be Like You". There is also an option to watch only the songs from the film.
The rest of the extras are on Disc 2. There are a series of games on the disc and in the middle of these is "DisneyPedia: Junglemania", an informative 14-minute documentary which examines the jungles of India. "The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book" (46 minutes) uses archive footage, old photos, and new interviews to take an in-depth look at the movie. We learn about the origins of the script and its development, the animation style and characters, the voice actors, the music, the impact of Disney's death, and the public's reaction to the movie. "Disney's Kipling" (15 minutes) examines the challenge of adapting the original stories. Current animators talk about the influence of the film on their lives in "The Lure of The Jungle Book" (9 minutes). Voice actor Bruce Reitherman discusses his career as a nature filmmaker in "Mowgli Returns to the Wild" (5 minutes). In archive footage, animator Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston discuss character animation in "Frank & Ollie" (4 minutes). Finally, there are ART GALLERIES featuring Visual Development, Character Design, Storyboard Art, Layout and Background, Production Photos, and Publicity.
On February 11, 2014, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released The Jungle Book on Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The restoration and HD transfer here look fantastic! The image shows only the slightest hint of grain and there are no defects from the source materials. The only real "flaw" revealed by the new transfer are some stray lines from the animation. The colors look great and are never dull, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent and the depth is worth noting. The movie still looks nearly 50 years old, but it looks great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Like a lot of these older Disney tracks, this one is doesn't sound like a surround sound track. The track is well-balanced, as the sound effects and music never overpower the dialogue, but we don't get any dynamic effects here. For example, I didn't hear any subwoofer action during the elephant march.
The Blu-ray Disc release of The Jungle Book features some new extras. Before viewing the film, we can watch an introduction from Diane Disney Miller or Richard M. Sherman. "Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller, and Floyd Norman" (10 minutes) is a casual chat with the composer, the story artist, and Walt Disney's daughter where they reminisce about The Jungle Book. While we see behind-the-scenes photos, the trio talk about the making of the film, specifically touching on Walt's involvement with the movie. "Alternate Ending - Mowgli and the Hunter" (9 minutes) is a lost scene from the film whose text was discovered in the Disney archives. Artists have recreated the scene in storyboard form for us. "I Wan'na Be Like You: Hangin' Out at Disney's Animal Kingdom" (18 minutes) is basically a travelogue/advertisement for the attraction in Orlando, as two kids take a tour around the park, showing off various parts of the park. "Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along" (13 minutes) offers five songs from the film in karaoke style.
Review Copyright 2007/2014 by Mike Long