Straying away from the upbeat musical version of Rudyard Kipling's stories that Disney offered, famed Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones brings us an abbreviated version of Mowgli's tale, along with the return of Chester C. Cricket in a Christmas themed cartoon in the DVD release of the 1970s cartoons Mowgli's Brothers/A Very Merry Cricket.
Mowgli's adventures take a quick, abbreviated turn here. Roddy McDowall narrates the tale of the king and queen wolves of the jungle who find a young human boy "cub" and decide to raise him as their own. But, newborns always have to be brought before the pack and deemed worthy of keeping by at least two members. And, if that's not problem enough, there's a nasty white tiger who plans to use the misfit human as a tool to turn the rest of the wolves against their leader so he can overthrow their government. The 25 minute length of this feature doesn't allow for much time to develop Mowgli's story, and our narrator even says they have to skip a couple of years because the full story could fill a book (get it?). But, as a result, you don't become all that attached to this presentation of the story. It is dark, bland and most likely unentertaining for children.
Now for A Very Merry Cricket. If you don't know who he is, the original story of how he came to New York is recapped by his friends, Tucker the Mouse and Harry the Cat in the first five minutes. In short, this blue cricket can play violin with his wings, and wowed New York City a while back, but then returned home to Connecticut. Now, Harry and Tucker are seeing that commercialism and greed are destroying the Christmas spirit in New York City, and are sure Chester C. Cricket can return that spirit again with his beautiful music. So they travel to Connecticut to convince him to come to New York City and work his magic. It's amazing how often the theme of holiday commercialism was touched upon in Christmas cartoons back in the 60s and 70s. Little did we know back then what would become of the world today. Even so, the theme feels really forced in this special, and just an excuse to bring the cricket back. This is a gloomy cartoon, and not going to put you into the Christmas spirit at all because it barely hints at the holiday. However, the pay off is at the end, When Chuck Jones finally gives us a collage of holiday in the city imagery that is worth watching even if you just skip to the last chapter break to do so. The other bright side is the familiar voice talents of Mel Blanc.
This series of Chuck Jones Kipling/Cricket combos all suffer the same fate in video and sound. The menus are detailed but lackluster. The menu sound is great, but the cartoons themselves, presented in full frame (as intended) are grainy, and show their 30 year old age—specs, dust and hairlines. Color is washed and drab and blurring appears now and then. And there are also commercial fades.
This mono is clear but hollow, and needs to be turned up loud.
You get 8 chapter breaks for each cartoon and the same exact cartoon previews that are on the other volumes in the set, all of which begin at the insertion of the disc, and are not selectable from the menu for some reason.
Mowgli's Brothers/A Very Cricket Christmas continue the release of two rare Chuck Jones cartoon series on DVD. Unfortunately, this was not a strong selection for a combo, because neither episode is very appealing for kids or adults. They are both dark and moody installments, and neither is compelling story wise.