Review for The Jungle Book
As I grew older and more cynical, I rapidly fell out of love with Disney’s feature length animations, so by the age of around ten, I was no longer front and centre in front of my TV around Christmas time to see the latest morsel from the House of Mouse. I certainly was no longer tempted into a cinema to see such a film, and instead I always looked for animations with more edge. There are two exceptions to that prejudice, Aladdin, a film solely redeemed by the anarchic presence of Robin Williams, and this, The Jungle Book, the last animated Disney feature made during Walt Disney’s life. Once again, I’m upgrading the film from VHS direct to Blu-ray, that tape no longer able to cut it on high definition screens, and I have to say that I am double-dipping with a little reluctance, given Disney’s revisionary approach to re-releasing their classic films.
Lost as a baby in the jungle, Mowgli the man-cub was raised by wolves, and lived an idyllic existence with his jungle friends for ten years. Only now, the tiger Shere Khan has returned to the jungle, and his hatred of man is legendary. The first thing he will do is to kill Mowgli. It is decided that the best thing is for Mowgli to be returned to the safety of the man village. The panther Bagheera volunteers to take Mowgli back, but there’s just one problem, Mowgli doesn’t want to go.
Here is why I was reluctant to upgrade. Disney have been massaging their classic animations for the digital age, and have been since the advent of DVD. The Jungle Book was evidently animated at the 4:3 ratio to be exhibited as widescreen in cinemas, although I’m a little uncertain as to what ratio that was. On this Blu-ray however, it gets a 1.75:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with thin black bars left and right. You mostly note the compressed aspect at the opening, where the traditional book opening is missing image information from the top of the screen, and there are one or two moments during the film where the frame seems cramped. It makes me suspect that the natural widescreen ratio for The Jungle Book would have been closer to 1.66:1.
The second thing is that the image has been finessed for the HD age, which in this case means that it’s been scrubbed of film grain. My concern was that the DNR process would have been aggressively applied to the point where detail such as pencil lines would have been lost, and colours re-timed so that the dull autumnal shades of the jungle would have been brightened up and made unnaturally vibrant. Thankfully, it’s only the grain that seems to have been removed, and in other respects, the film matches that in my memories, the animation still feels hand drawn and organic, while the colours still seem applied by hand and brush to cel acetate, not by cursor and pointer to a bitmap file. The detail levels are good, and live up to the HD presentation, and my only niggle, other than the aspect ratio would be a couple of juddery pans.
In 1967, The Jungle Book would have been released with a simple monaural soundtrack. In the 2014 Blu-ray it gets a DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English track, which would surely be overkill, but thankfully it retains the original sense of the film, keeping things mostly front-focussed, keeping the surrounds in its pocket for the music and songs. It’s those songs that make The Jungle Book so special for me, and even after all this time, they still have their stylish charm. I have no issues with the audio, and for once, I have another audio option on here that I can appreciate. You also have the option of DD 5.1 Surround Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi, and I gave the film a spin in the latter. What a great dub! The characters are cast brilliantly well, the dialogue fits the mouth flaps perfectly, and even the songs have been translated brilliantly. And really, for a film set in India, Hindi is the ‘authentic’ experience. You also get subtitles in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Normally Disney discs are all region, but in this case The Jungle Book is locked to Regions B & C. No matter, as it shares the same extra features as the US Diamond Edition.
After the language select menu that appears on insertion, the disc plays a skippable trailer for The Little Mermaid, before booting to an animated menu. You have the choice of playing the film directly, or with a 30 second introduction from composer Richard M. Sherman.
On the disc you’ll find trailers for Disneyland Paris, the Disney Channel, and The Little Mermaid again, in Sneak Peeks.
HD extra features on this Blu-ray include...
I Wanna Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, an 18:25 tour of a zoo.
Alternate Ending, 8:46 of narrated contemporary storyboards created from a treatment made for the original film.
Growing Up With Nine Old Men (41:08), a documentary looking at Walt Disney’s core animators, with interviews with their children.
The rest of the extra features are taken from the DVD release of the film, including a commentary from Richard M. Sherman, Andreas Deja (a Disney Animator looking at the film with a historian’s perspective), and Bruce Reitherman, son of the director Wolfgang Reitherman, as well as the voice of Mowgli. There are also some archive interviews excerpted into the commentary.
In Backstage Disney you’ll find The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book, a 46:27 documentary.
Disney’s Kipling (15:01)
The Lure of The Jungle Book (9:28)
Mowgli's Return to the Wild (5:09)
Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation (3:46)
Deleted Scene: The Lost Character, Rocky the Rhino (6:36)
Disneypedia: Junglemania is a 14:21 documentary on the real life Indian jungles.
You can sing along with the movie in the Music & More, which is where you’ll also find 20:47 of Deleted Songs, 7 of them. There’s also a Jonas Brothers Music Video which lasts 2:51. All of the extra features from the DVD are presented on this disc in 480i format, other than the audio commentary of course.
Confidentially, I’ve yet to find the time to enjoy the extra features on this disc.
You’ve got me... The Jungle Book feature animation is my blind spot. You’re not going to get any meaningful criticism from me on this one. I absolutely love this film, and have done ever since my parents took me to see it at our local Coronet cinema, back when I was around six or seven. A cinema full of children and their parents, absolutely enthralled by Disney magic for almost an hour and a half! I still remember the end of the film, after the fight with Shere Khan, Baloo lying prone in the clearing, and all the toddlers in the cinema started crying at the horrible fate that had just befallen the lovable uncle bear. It was then that I realised the power of cinema, and it was then that the Jungle Book was cemented as one of my favourite films, and it has remained that way ever since.
Some might say that Disney’s star was already on the wane back in 1967, that the glory days of films like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Cinderella had long since passed, but I think its fairer to say that the reactionary era of the sixties, with its anti-establishment air, the distrust of authority meant that the schmaltz of Disney’s sanitised fairy tales was no longer in vogue. The Jungle Book is very much a film for that period, with a free-wheeling anarchic style, and edgier characterisations in some ways thumbing their noses at what had come before. You certainly couldn’t imagine characters like Baloo, Louie, and the Liverpudlian Vultures in earlier Disney films. These were characters with style and sass, and you could see that in the animation, as much as you could hear it in the voice performances.
You could say that The Jungle Book is less a coherent narrative than it is a series of vignettes, cool moments where Mowgli encounters weird creatures as he travels through the jungle, but something about this movie just clicks. The animation coupled with the music, the characters, the script, the pacing, it all finds perfection in this film, and I can always make time to watch it. I like it so much that I’m not even going to worry that it doesn’t quite match the original filmmaker’s intent, having been scrubbed up for Blu-ray. The Jungle Book set a new benchmark for Disney back in 1967, but the odd thing is that they never quite managed to match it. Certainly subsequent films such as Robin Hood that tried to replicate the anthropomorphised animals, and edgier sixties attitudes seemed to have missed something fundamental. It wasn’t until the nineties that Disney’s star started to ascend once more. But Disney’s The Jungle Book is one film that I will always want in my collection.