Originally released in 1967 The Jungle Book may not have aged as well as some of the older Disney films, but the spirit and legacy of the film has lived on through countless films from Disney (and other animation houses) over the years. Several current filmmakers, including Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), credit the movie for getting them interested in animated filmmaking.
Re-released in 1978, I fond have memories of seeing the film in theaters, especially the musical sequence of “The Bare Necessities” sung by Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) and Baloo (Phil Harris). It’s hard not to see the film’s influence in movies such as Robin Hood (which reused multiple character designs) and others years later particularly in The Lion King with its own animal jungle sidekicks singing a very similar philosophy about life.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s tales of a young boy named Mowgli, often referred to in the film simply by the title of the Man Cub, who was raised by wolves and grew up in the jungles of India, the story gets the expected Disney treatment but is actual far closer to the original fables than the live-action version the studio made years later. The return of the jungle’s deadliest predator, a tiger named Shere Khan (George Sanders), forces both new and old friends to try and convince Mowgli to leave the jungle and go to live in the closest human settlement.
Although the film’s spirit and catchy musical numbers have lived on, and the movie is still quite entertaining today, I wouldn’t call The Jungle Book one of Disney’s best films. Mowgli is rather one-dimensional, for only 78 minutes the film drags in spots, and although our protagonist’s antics with the various jungle creatures are entertaining the film lacks a strong final act. (However, the end sequence involving human nature does work quite well.) And some of the characters used both here and in Robin Hood are arguably more successful in the later film.
Extras on include interviews with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman discussing music and memories of the Walt Disney’s last film (who died during production), an alternate ending, infomercials for Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Disney Animation Studio (neither of which is connected to the movie in any way), Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along (featuring “Trust In Me,” “I Wan’na Be Like You,” “The Bare Necessities,” “Colonel Hathi’s March,” “That’s What Friends Are For”), and new introductions by Miller and Sherman to the film.
Also included are extras from the film’s previous DVD releases which include deleted scenes, the Backstage Disney making of featurettes (a look at the character design and animation, adapting Roger Kipling’s original story for Disney audiences), a documentary on the jungles and animals of India found in the movie, a Jonas Brothers music video, and audio commentary from Sherman, Andreas Deja, and Reitherman.
One final note, some fans have been vocal about the choice to reverse pan and scan the film as it appears here in widescreen. I will note that the film’s restoration is impressive as the film looks cleaner than I have ever seen it. That said, there is a definite amount of cropping necessary to change the aspect from a 1.33:1 (as seen on some previous releases) to 1.75:1 (as is seen here). This isn’t the first Disney film to get such treatment as several previously Blu-ray releases have gone though the same aspect shift for the company’s Platinum and Diamond Editions. I’ll admit I have mixed feelings about the process. However, it seems great care has been taken to not let these changes detract from viewing the film so while it is something worth mentioning it’s not a criticism (at least for my enjoyment of the movie).
[Walt Disney Stuidos Home Entertainment, Blu-ray $39.99]