The House of Mouse has a long and lucrative history of whitewashing source material for family consumption...but hey, it's resulted in a lot of top-notch animated classics. The Jungle Book (1967) is a perfect example, as Rudyard Kipling's eponymous 1894 tome featured no scatting, jazz music, marching elephants or thinly-veiled allusions to The Beatles. Many of the source material's darker elements were stripped away at Walt Disney's insistence...much to the dismay of writer Bill Peet and composer Terry Gilkyson, who both left the film under protest and were replaced. Not surprisingly, The Jungle Book's generally light tone and loose, expressive new atmosphere has won over audiences for more than 40 years, from the original theatrical run to a trio of wide domestic re-releases and multiple home video editions.
Sadly, The Jungle Book was the last animated feature produced by Walt Disney before his 1966 death, yet the film's visual style and looser vibe amplified the changing trends from earlier years. The film's xerographic animation---first utilized by Disney in 1961's 101 Dalmatians, and last used by the studio in 1985's The Black Cauldron---gave The Jungle Book a stylish, sketchy appearance that breathed life into its colorful characters, while Disney's lifelong appreciation for jazz and pop music led to the unorthodox voice casting of musicians Phil Harris (Baloo), George Sanders (Shere Khan), Louis Prima (King Louie), J. Pat O'Malley (Colonel Hathi) and Chad Stuart (Flaps the Vulture), among others. In fact, The Jungle Book's plot is secondary, as this coming-of-age tale places characters and atmosphere at the forefront of its episodic, improvisational structure. Simply put, it's got big-city style in a setting far removed from neon and marquees.
The end result is a uniquely light, entertaining and accessible adventure that fits in snugly with other Disney productions from the era, including 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats and Robin Hood. While the song-and-dance formula and expressive visuals would be smoothed and polished in later decades (most notably the 1990s, perhaps Disney's most lucrative period), The Jungle Book still stands tall as one of the studio's better efforts. I'm admittedly not a lifelong fan; in fact, I don't remember seeing it until well after I was the same age as Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), and probably just a handful of times since then. But even those completely new to The Jungle Book should instantly be able to appreciate (if not admire) its technical merits, memorable songs, stripped-down atmosphere and entertaining motley crew.
Disney's own Platinum Edition DVD---released back in 2007, just weeks before the film's 40th anniversary---earned top marks for a strong A/V presentation and a quality assortment of bonus features. This new Diamond Edition combo pack (one Blu-ray and one DVD) ups the ante with a strong 1080p transfer, two different audio mixes and a handful of new extras to go with most of the old ones. Without a doubt, it's respectful treatment of a certified classic...so whether you've been a lifelong fan of The Jungle Book or you're new to the film, Disney's well-rounded efforts won't disappoint.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in 1.75:1, this 1080p transfer is very satisfying overall. The Jungle Book's lush, watercolor-toned palette looks suitably saturated, while the casual, sketchy art style shows no signs of excessive noise, compromised black levels, ghosting or most other digital issues. The expressive painted backgrounds, which help to emphasize the film's loose vibe, look especially nice. A handful of scenes appear a bit too smooth for their own good, leading me to believe that a modest amount of DNR was used on occasion...but overall, it's not distracting in the least and, most importantly, presents no obvious loss of fine detail. Like The Aristocats and Robin Hood, Disney films of this era simply had a unique visual style and it's been preserved well on Blu-ray. So while this isn't quite a perfect image, fans should be pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
The default audio track is presented in DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio...and obviously enough, the film's one-channel source material (also included as a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio option) doesn't offer much room for a full-blown expansion. More often than not, the surround track stays up front while ambient background noise and sporadic music cues drift into the rear channels on occasion. Dialogue always remains crisp and easy to follow. Much like the visuals, this is simply respectful treatment of limited source material...and since both options are available, each "camp" should be happy. Also included are lossy 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish, as well as optional subtitles or captions in all three languages.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the attractive and functional menu interface gets the job done nicely. The Jungle Book
is divided into just over a dozen chapters and the discs are locked for Region 1/A playback only. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase; also included are a few promotional inserts, a Digital Copy
code and a matching slipcover.
A handful of newly-created supplements is included with this release, as are most of the old ones from Disney's Platinum Edition DVD. These new film-specific extras lead off with "Music, Memories & Mowgli"
(9:49), a conversation with songwriter Richard M. Sherman (the surviving half of The Sherman Brothers), Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller, and animator Floyd Norman about the film's impact, production and legacy. Next up is a Alternate Ending
(8:46) for the film, recently discovered in script form and newly storyboarded (and narrated) by Disney artist Raymond Percy. Finally, the quirky but enjoyable "Bear-E-Oke"
feature (12:47 total) presents five of the film's songs in sing-along format.
Two more new extras are also included, though they're much more promotional in nature. "I Wan'na Be Like You" (18:25) offers a quick tour of Animal Kingdom, Disney World's fourth and most recently-built theme park in Florida. Also, "Sparking Creativity" (9:14) details a recent initiative at Disney's animation studio, which encourages new ideas and rewards resident artists for thinking outside the box. Both are worth checking out, but they won't get much replay.
Also included on the Blu-ray disc is the majority of The Jungle Book's vintage DVD extras, covered in more detail in our 2007 review of that title. These recycled supplements include the excellent "Bare Necessities" behind-the-scenes featurette, the "Disney's Kipling" comparison piece, "The Lure of The Jungle Book", "Mowgli's Return to the Wild", an Archival Interview with animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, a Deleted Character sequence with "Rocky the Rhino", the wildlife-heavy "Junglepedia!" featurette, a selection of "Music and More" clips and, of course, a feature-length Audio Commentary with Richard M. Sherman, voice actor Bruce Reitherman and current Disney animator Andreas Deja. It's a fine collection with only a few minor exclusions, most notably a user-navigated gallery of art material.
Oddly enough, the included DVD Copy of The Jungle Book omits all but two of these supplements, which include the kid-friendly "Animal Kingdom" tour and the deleted "Rocky the Rhino" sequence. Optional English subtitles are included for all applicable extras, which are incidentally presented in a mixture of HD and upscaled 480i formats.
Whether The Jungle Book is a childhood favorite or you're relatively new to the film, Disney's enduring classic remains an expressive, entertaining and accessible film for audiences of all ages. The striking visuals combine nicely with its memorable characters, catchy music and strong voice acting to create a timeless coming-of-age adventure that barely even needs a strong narrative. Disney's new Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD offers a high-quality A/V presentation and more than enough new and vintage bonus features to satisfy die-hard fans of the film. Colorful, free-wheeling and unique, The Jungle Book still falls short of Disney's very best productions...but not by much. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.