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THE JUNGLE BOOK
Diamond Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, Louis Prima
Director:  Wolfgang Reitherman
Audio:  DTS HD 7.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  78 Minutes
Release Date:  
February 11, 2014

"Look for the bare necessities, that's why a bear can rest at ease,

With just the bare necessities of life!"

Film ***1/2

When The Jungle Book was in pre-production, Walt Disney strolled into his studio one day with Phil Harris by his side.  He informed his staff that here was the exact voice he wanted for the character of Baloo, the bear.

Harris was a popular night club singer and comic, who had made a few television appearances, but was mostly known for his often humorous and delightful songs.  The trouble was, the animators didn’t know what to make of him.  And Harris himself was equally unsure about performing a voice for an animated film.

When asked to record Baloo’s entrance, the results were somewhat poor, according to all that were there.  The script had called for Baloo to come on screen crooning, a la Sinatra or Crosby.  And it just wasn’t working.  The animators didn’t want to tell Walt he was wrong, but it was clear they were losing patience.  Finally, Harris apologized, and said that the style of the character just didn’t suit him at all.  Finally, more out of desperation than anything else, the team asked Harris how he would make his entrance.

After a pause, a big smile came to his face, and he broke into the now classic, “Well it’s a do-ba-dee-do, I mean a do-ba-dee-do…”  Soon, the animators were smiling as well.  Just like that…they had a character.  And once again, Walt Disney proved that his instincts were right amidst the skepticism.

Sadly, The Jungle Book was the last Disney animated feature to be completed under Walt’s supervision before his death.  But the studio would go on, and this film would serve as a fitting memorial to one of cinema’s most acclaimed magicians. 

The Jungle Book always reminds me of that old Muppet Show joke: “Do you like Kipling?”  “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.”  That pretty much sums up the spirit of the Disney film.  It’s not Rudyard Kipling for purists, but it is a tale told with a sense of humor and fun, and should be a picture to delight just about anyone.  Especially those who…well, have never “kippled”.

Mowgli is a human boy who was raised by wolves in the jungle.  This is the only life he’s ever known, and he’s perfectly content with it.  However, the threat of the most ominous villain in their world, Shere Khan the tiger.  He has a particular hatred for Homo sapiens, and the wolf pack cannot protect him any longer.  He must return to the man village, accompanied by Bagheera the panther.

It won’t be an easy journey—particularly considering the kid doesn’t want to go.  He doesn’t know why he should be afraid of a tiger.  (It’s a sensibility we all had at that age.  I didn’t know why I shouldn’t touch the flat part of an iron.  I learned the hard way).  To complicate matters is the appearance of the free spirited Baloo, who takes a leisurely and no-worries approach to life that appeals to young Mowgli.  Some lessons will naturally have to be learned along the way.

In addition to the often spirited comedy, this film boasts a fun array of musical numbers, not the least of which is the Oscar nominated “The Bare Necessities”.  There’s also the lively “I Wanna Be Like You” and the slitheringly silly snake song, “Trust In Me”.

But it’s the voices really help make the picture, and this is a terrific cast, featuring Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera, Louis Prima as the monkey king, the wonderful Sterling Holloway as Kaa, and the inimitable George Sanders as Shere Khan.  But make no mistake, it is the winning, laid back, humorous charm of Phil Harris as Baloo that really stands apart.

Getting back to Harris, there is a second part to that story I mentioned.  He was eventually invited to a test screening of a few early rough segments, where he could finally see how Baloo would look on screen, acting to the sound of his voice.  Upon viewing them for the first time, Harris turned to the animators in awe, and said in almost a whisper, “You guys are making me immortal.”  They did…and he is.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Chad Stuart of the group Chad and Jeremy was one of the vultures, while the venerable Clint Howard was the voice of the baby elephant!

Video ****

This is a beautiful looking transfer from Disney, and in high definition at last!  Considering many jungle scenes were rendered with a more limited palate of colors, mostly greens and earth tones, this is a surprisingly colorful discs, with many subtle shades and textures.  Darker scenes look just as pretty as brighter ones, and throughout, images are sharp and clear. 

Audio ****

May I just say, I'm a big fan of Disney's uncompressed mixes?  The Jungle Book sounds more lively than ever in 7.1...dynamic, crisp, clear, and ambient.  The songs sound better than ever with a little extra subwoofer effect to give them kick.  The original stereo soundtrack is also included for purists.

Features ****

This Diamond Edition is quite loaded.  It starts with some new materials, including new introductions from composer Richard Sherman and Diane Disney Miller.  There is also a behind-the-scenes with Disney animators and a new retrospective featurette.  There is an alternate ending ("Mowgli and the Hunter"), a new sing-along...er, "Bear-E-Oke", plus a chance to hang out at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park!

The original extras are also here, starting with a commentary track that features star Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), composer Robert Sherman, and animator Andreas Deja, which has some classic vintage clips edited in for good measure.  There's also 7 deleted musical numbers, including a demo for "The Bare Necessities", a storyboard-based deleted scene with the lost character Rocky the Rhino, a look at Disney's wildlife conservation efforts, and a Jonas Brothers music video for "I Wan'na Be Like You".

There are also five featurettes, including an all new making-of documentary, which has plenty of interviews including vintage ones with Phil Harris and Wolfgang Reitherman.  For the kids, there's Baloo's virtual jungle cruise containing four interactive games, plus art galleries.  The menu screens are all well-done to boot!

Summary:

The Jungle Book is a lively, colorful, funny and musical animated feature from Disney, the last that would be made under Walt’s personal supervision.  It’s a bit of a stretch from the original Rudyard Kipling stories, but that aside, it’s still a fun filled romp with terrific songs and delightful characters, and one that is sure to be enjoyed time and time again, especially with this Diamond Edition that offers fans MUCH more than the bare necessities.

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