Like it or not, Disney's 1967 animated adaptation of The Jungle Book is more widely known than Rudyard Kipling's 19th century children's books on which it was very loosely based. It's an important film in the company's boundary-pushing catalog of animated features: one that utilized cutting-edge technology, jazz music, and unconventional voice casting to create a free-wheeling, spontaneous adventure that's light on story but big on heart (it's also the last film that Walt produced before his death in 1966). Fast-forward a half-century and Disney's then-struggling animation department has long since ballooned into an entertainment empire that's no less committed to pushing technical limits, leading the mainstream (alongside Pixar), and delighting children of all ages in the process.
This half-century gap has also led to the recent announcement of just about every notable Disney animated film getting the big-budget, live-action treatment: first up to bat was 2015's enjoyable Cinderella, with other big names like Beauty and the Best and The Little Mermaid coming further down the line. The Jungle Book seemed like an odd sophomore selection: Disney had already done it once before, and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) was initially taken aback when the studio approached him with the project. Yet the end result is unquestionably a more authentic, well-rounded, and densely-layered translation of Kipling's original stories than Disney's previous two efforts...but to be fair, the 1967 film's original writer and composer (who were fired) weren't aiming for "sanitized".
Yet for all its differences, fans of the 'toon will find that some things haven't changed: most of the key players---Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan, Kaa, King Louie, and of course Mowgli---are front and center (albeit with slightly different temperaments), two of the best original songs are here, and the film's extremely polished blend of live-action and CGI breaks as much visual ground as its animated predecessor. Also impressive is the voice talent: Baloo (Bill Murray), Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), and Shere Khan (Idris Elba) feel like natural choices, while others---including Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (Christopher Walken), among others---are unconventional picks that nonetheless fully inhabit their non-traditional roles. As roughly one-half of The Jungle Book's human characters, Neel Sethi (as Mowgli) does a terrific job interacting with his invisible co-stars: child actors can easily make or break a film, but Sethi has the look and attitude to anchor most of what happens around him. Contending with the fearsome Shere Khan, who despises humans for scarring his face, Mowgli's coming-of-age tale is as much an examination of the orphaned man-cub's place in the world as a streamlined action/adventure; maybe more.
Although I still don't think this reboot of The Jungle Book necessarily needed the familiar song breaks to survive (that's my diplomatic way of saying Christopher Walken sings just as flatly here as he did in that Peter Pan live production, while Murray and Sethi aren't much better), they're nonetheless an enjoyable part of this considerably darker but still family-friendly adventure. Favreau's film serves up a surprising amount of depth and power at times---honestly, it's not far behind The Lion King in some respects, which it more than passively resembles during a few key moments---as well as enough heart and soul to satisfy seasoned fans and newcomers of all ages. And of course, the ambitious visual scope has little trouble selling The Jungle Book's imaginative and exotic locales: the line between real life and CGI is nearly invisible. Disney's Blu-ray follows suit with top-tier A/V presentation---without question, one of the best I've seen this year---and a somewhat slim but entertaining collection of bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Jungle Book is as polished and precise as I've seen on home video to date; not surprising, given the film's big-budget effects and state-of-the-art digital pedigree. This transfer maintains a smooth and seamless appearance from start to finish with strong image detail and robust black levels across the board, whether it's sourced from live action footage or CGI elements. No apparent digital issues could be spotted along the way including compression artifacts, banding, crush or edge enhancement, resulting in a pitch-perfect viewing experience overall. I doubt you'll find a better-looking version of this film on Blu-ray in the future, so fans and newcomers alike can be assured that The Jungle Book has been treated with care.
NOTE: The promotional images featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.
No Atmos mix; other than that, it's tough to complain. The default DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (also available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish or French dubs) is a total knockout with plenty of surround activity, tightly-controlled bursts of low end, a handful of clever tricks, and an occasionally wide presence that really complements the film's ambitious visuals. Dialogue is very clear but mixed a little lower than usual, as this appears to replicate the theatrical experience rather than one optimized for home theaters. It's a very punchy track that, due to its completely outdoor environment, features no shortage of subtle and striking atmospheric touches; in short, everything sounds crisp and well-placed from start to finish. Optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple and well-organized interface is clean and easy to navigate, with minimal pre-menu distractions (or at least several that can be bypassed easily) and a handy "Resume" function for trouble-free playback. This two-disc set arrives in a dual-hubbed keepase; also included is a Digital Copy redemption code and matching slipcover.
Less than expected for a Disney release, but what's here is of very good quality. The main attraction for many is "The Jungle Book Reimagined" (35 minutes), a mid-length documentary that covers a fairly satisfying amount of ground in modest detail. Featured participants include director Jon Favreau, producer Brigham Taylor, VFX supervisor Robert Legato, and several of the key actors and voice actors including Neel Sethi, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Ben Kinglsey, and Giancarlo Esposito. Topics include the mixture of old and new music cues, visual effects, casting, development, and much more. An Audio Commentary with Favreau goes into much greater detail for more seasoned fans of the film; not surprisingly, the candid and enthusiastic director dishes out no shortage of trivia, personal insight, occasional Easter eggs, and congratulatory praise for his cast and crew.
Two shorter featurettes are also on board: "I Am Mowgli" (8 minutes) takes a closer look at Neel Sethi's initial casting and his performance in this effects-heavy production, while the brief but enjoyable "King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer" (3 minutes) offers a breakdown of the song "I Wanna Be Like You" that intermixes storyboards, rough CGI footage, finished clips, and a live orchestral performance introduced by songwriter Richard Sherman. The absence of a
Disney Channel music video marketing section (trailers, TV spots, posters, etc.) and more detailed look at the visual effects is disappointing, but there's still a fairly well-rounded mix of material to dig through here.
I'll admit that Disney's initial announcement of live-action remakes of its classic animated films initially sounded like nothing more than a cheap cash grab, but they've been worthwhile thus far: 2015's Cinderella certainly had its moments and this new adaptation of The Jungle Book is even better. It's tonally much different from "the original" but for mostly the right reasons, while its state-of-the-art visual pedigree feels like a natural extension of the 1967 film's then-cutting-edge technology. Plain and simple: I doubt many expected Jon Favreau's "reboot" of The Jungle Book to be any good, and it is. Disney's Blu-ray is a technical stunner but a little light on bonus features, even though they're of great quality (and, like the film itself, not aimed entirely at kids). 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.