There was a time when Disney made movies that not only inspired the imagination, but instilled in every young person— and old— the importance of a great story to accompany the background of one’s life. Disney films have been in the background of family gatherings, first in-theater experiences, and even those wonderful moments when it’s just you, a comfy blanket, and an old friend for over fifty years. Of course, those old friends are different for us all. Some people prefer the enthusiasm of Aladdin, others eagerly anticipate the mischief of Ariel, some long for the gentleness of Pooh and his friends, while others cheer on Belle and her beast, but not me. I will never forget sitting in my grandmother’s living room where I eagerly anticipated the story of a young boy raised in the jungle where he discovers not only strength in survival, but the power of friendship that has no barriers, no divide. Yes, my friends were Mowgli, Baloo, King Louie and of course the two indecisive vultures that I still think are hilarious.
Putting on Disney’s 40th Anniversary Edition of The Jungle Book was like stepping backwards into a memory and discovering the same warmth and anticipation I did as a child. I watched as Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman, who was also the voice of Christopher Robin in two of the Winnie the Pooh films) changed from a young carefree child into a boy whose understanding grows with every creature and every situation he encounters. Though the film is only 78 minutes, the observations made by Mowgli and his friends– even his enemies— linger on.
This is a story of man becoming man, and accepting his place without forgetting his beginnings, his friends, and his journey. The Jungle Book follows baby Mowgli from the moment he was discovered in the jungle by Bagheera (voiced by Sebastian Cabot, also the voice of the narrator in Winnie the Pooh) the fatherly panther— whose expressions reveal more than words, more than songs— to being raised by wolves before being voted out because of fear of the powerful influence of the tiger, to meeting the lovable bear Baloo (voiced by the impeccable Phil Harris who voiced some of Disney’s greatest characters: Little John from Robin Hood, Thomas O’Malley of The AristoCats for example) who becomes Mowgli’s dearest friend and mentor, to Mowgli’s hypnotic run-ins with Kaa (voiced by Sterling Holloway, another Disney great who was the voice of Winnie the Pooh), to meeting King Louie (voiced by Louis Prima) and listening to his catchy, dance-worthy desire to know how to make fire, to facing the heart wrenching fear of goodbye, and to his ultimate return with Bagheera to the edge of the jungle where choice awaits him.
Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book stories, was a man who often wrote about life and its lessons. The Jungle Book is no exception. The film does not simply focus on catchy songs (“The Bare Necessities” is a favorite as is “I Wan’na Be Like you”– even now, after the DVD has come to an end, I hear them and I smile) and lovable characters as so many animated films do today, it focuses on story, the heart of the matter, and the choices Mowgli will ultimately have to make. For those who have never seen The Jungle Book I must warn, the moment Mowgli gazes through the jungle trees and sees a life that is somehow familiar though never lived, is one of those moments that catches your breath because you realize he will never look at the jungle with the same childlike wonder again.
As I watched and relived my many experiences with this engaging, wondrous, enthralling tale I was thankful that movies like this were ever made. And that’s probably because of the fantastic characters and the classic animation that always takes me back, happily. The Jungle Book is not like any other Disney film to date. The lush jungle animation is beyond intoxicating , the characters are not just filler there for laughs, but they are real and add to the story, and the story itself has these eerie atmospheric undertones that the animators and voice actors projected perfectly while remaining light enough and engaging enough to reveal the story of a young “man-cub” and his journeys home. The Jungle Book is full of emotion, surprise, suspense, intrigue, and heart. It feels good sitting down with an old friend after all these years.
As for flaws, some slight grain was seen on occasion, but I'll guess that this is an element of the original negative. No edge enhancement, artifacting or other issues were spotted. Colors looked bright, well-saturated and clean. Overall, fans will be pleased with this new edition, which is certainly an improvement over the prior release.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with an "Enhanced For Home Theatre" Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (English, French, Spanish options), as well as a restored edition of the original mono mix. The 5.1 presentation is, as one might expect, not surround-sound demo material, but does a reasonably good job opening out the music. Audio quality was pretty good, with crisp, clean-sounding tunes and dialogue. The original mono mix also sounded surprisingly good for its age.
EXTRAS: An audio commentary from Richard Sherman (composer), Andreas Deja (animator) and Bruce Reitherman (voice of Mowgli) is included, and the commentary also offers some additional archive interviews throughout, as well. The first disc also offers up a few other swingin' features, such as a deleted scene (which features a deleted character, Rocky the Rhino), 7 deleted songs, music video and a featurette on Disney's Wildlife Fund. The last extra is essentially a promo, but I'm for anything to save wildlife and protect natural environments.
The second DVD offers a load of additional bonus features, starting with "The Bare Necessities", a 43-minute "making of" featurette that looks into the development, production and legacy of the film. Animator Glen Keane, historians like John Culhane and other animators (including both new and archive interviews) discuss how the project started and Walt's initial involvement, as well as Walt's ideas and changes for the film. We also get some thoughts about character design, story and more. There's a lot of praise thrown about, but when the documentary focuses on chatting about the production process, it's quite interesting and informative.
"Disney's Kipling" is a 15-minute look at Walt Disney's original purchase of the rights, as well as the struggles to adapt the lengthy Kipling novel to a short animated film. Also of interest in this documentary is a discussion of the differences between the Kipling novel and the Disney version. "The Lure of the Jungle Book" is a 9-minute discussion of the film's appeal by animator Will Finn, animator Andres Deja and others, who all discuss how the film inspired them.
"Mowgli's Return to the Wild" is a short featurette that profiles Brian Reitherman, who voiced the character in the film and who is now a nature photographer. "Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation" is a short piece from the archives that has the two legendary Disney animators discussing character design. The second disc's other section, "Jungle Fun" offers an interactive game and "Baloo's Interactive Jungle Cruise", as well as "Disneypedia: Junglemania!", a 14-minute educational featurette on jungle creatures. Finally, image galleries (production photos, storyboards, concept art and more) are included.
The Film A