Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Now for the first time ever on Blu-ray with glorious digital high definition, Disney’s Jumpin’ Jungle Classic has never looked so lush or sounded so good! Meet the most unforgettable characters and embark on a thrilling adventure with Mowgli as he journeys deep into the jungle and learns “The Bare Necessities” of life from happy-go-lucky Baloo the bear. Meet Bagheera, the wise old panther, and crazy King Louie, the orangutan. But watch out for the cunning tiger Shere Khan and Kaa, the sneakiest snake in the jungle! Beloved characters, swinging music and new behind-the-scenes bonus features make this Diamond Edition Blu-ray a must-have for every family’s classic collection!

Film (5 out of 5 stars)
The Jungle Book is one of the most beloved of Walt Disney's movies thanks to its great characters and catchy songs and also because it has the imprint of the master himself, as this was the last film that Walt Disney personally supervised before his death in December 1966. Disney got involved when the previous film The Sword in the Stone didn't meet up to expectations as it was felt to have a fairly weak story. When Disney was presented with the tale of Mowgli from the novel by Rudyard Kipling, he knew it would work for an animated film, but he didn't want it to follow the fairly dark approach of the book. That opinion ended up causing some issues as his story-man Bill Peet eventually quit the company in disagreement as he felt it should follow the book. Of course, Disney was right because a lighter approach was the appropriate one for a family film and he also added some new characters to the story and cast the roles himself.

This tale of a baby that was accidentally lost in the jungle only to be raised by wolves stayed true to the source up to a point as the overall plot remained the same, but Disney softened the tone and added a lot more humor and enlisted the Sherman Brothers to create some unforgettable songs. The young child later named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), grows up to be a fun loving boy who enjoys playing with his siblings until his idyllic childhood is ruined by the fact that he's growing older which is sure to attract the vicious man eating tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders).  The wolf pack is concerned that their harboring the boy could lead to their own destruction from Shere Khan and they vote to kick Mowgli out of the pack. The panther Bagheera volunteers to take Mowgli to a nearby man village where he will be safe from the tiger.

The only problem is, is that Mowgli has no interest in leaving the jungle and in his hubris he believes that he has nothing to fear from the tiger. Frustrated by Mowgli's stubbornness, Bagheera leaves the boy on his own after a run in with the python Kaa (Sterling Holloway) almost gets them both killed. Lucky for Mowgli, he runs into a friendly outgoing bear named Baloo (Phil Harris) who takes the boy under his wing and even teaches him his life philosophy about sticking to "The Bare Necessities." Their fun is interrupted when a group of monkeys kidnap Mowgli to take him to King Louie (Louis Prima), their ape king who is intent on learning how mankind can make fire.  Louie makes a proposition to Mowgli where he will allow the boy to stay in the jungle if Mowgli shares the secret of fire to him.  Since Mowgli has no idea how to create fire, he is fortunate that both Baloo and Bagheera plan to rescue him.  What none of them realize is that a bigger threat is nearby, as Shere Khan plans to kill Mowgli once he finds him.

I've always enjoyed The Jungle Book for as long as I can remember and that still holds to this day. This film has one of Disney's best soundtracks with songs like "The Bare Necessities," "I Wanna Be Like You," "Trust In Me," and more. I'm also a huge fan of Baloo the bear and the man who provided his voice, Phil Harris, who I also loved as Little John in Disney's Robin Hood. All of the characters were well cast with each performer really delivering their best across the board.  The playful duet between Baloo and King Louie is fantastic and Harris and Prima knock it out of the park even though they recorded "I Wanna Be Like You," separately. You can just feel the magic touch of Disney all over this film and it's a shame that he didn't get to see the completed version with audiences before he died. Fortunately for all of us, The Jungle Book has finally made its way to Blu-ray and it has never looked or sounded better!
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.75:1) transfer looks just as good as Disney's previous Diamond Edition releases which really isn't that much of a surprise since they always do an incredible job remastering their movies. They value their history and this transfer is another example of that fidelity. The colors look amazing and the detail present is also the sharpest I've ever seen for this movie and I've owned every version of this movie that's been release up until now. The black levels are solid and pitch black and this transfer looks incredible. 
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
The Jungle Book's original mono soundtrack has been been remastered several times but for this release we get a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that really brings the movie to life. The dialogue is crystal clear and the songs sound better than ever. This is primarily a front channel mix but everyone in awhile the rear channels show off some cross channel activity. For a movie this old, this mix is very impressive and it is probably the best that it can possibly be.
Extras (5 out of 5 stars)
As usual, Disney has given us a fully loaded Blu-ray that offers a ton of extras including the previous special features from earlier editions as well as new ones. This edition also marks a sad occasion as this is probably the last time we will get the benefit of an introduction from Diane Disney Miller who died recently. I'm not sure if she recorded any other intros but it was a nice touch that they have a nice caption to memorialize her.
  • Introductions - You can watch the film with two different introductions - one with Diane Disney Miller and the other with composer/songwriter Richard M. Sherman.
  • Alternate Ending: Mowgli And The Hunter - This darker ending is shown in a storyboarded format which shows an alternate ending where we see what happens to Mowgli after he returns to the man village and the conflict he has with one of the hunters in the village.
  • @DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity - This featurette reminds me of the kind of extras that Pixar includes on their discs. We see how an internal meeting to celebrate innovation and creativity has become an integral part of how Disney now makes their movies.
  • Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation With Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman - This is a great conversation about Walt Disney and the making of this movie from the people who actually knew him - his daughter, one of his favorite songwriters, and one of his animators.  
  • Disney Intermission: Bear-E-Oke Hosted By Baloo - Any time you pause the movie it will trigger this karaoke mode with the following songs: "Trust In Me," "I Wanna Be Like You," "Bare Necessities," "Colonel Hathi's March, and "That's What Friends Are For." 
  • Bear-E-Oke Sing A Long - If you don't want to use the pause function to sing the songs, you can use this extra to play the following songs: "Trust In Me," "I Wanna Be Like You," "Bare Necessities," "Colonel Hathi's March, and "That's What Friends Are For."  
  • I Wanna Be Like You - Hangin' Out At Disney's Animal Kingdom - This extra provides a look behind the scenes at Disney's Animal Kingdom where a pair of kids get to feed and take care of the animals.
  • Audio Commentary - We hear from songwriter Richard M. Sherman, voice actor Bruce Reitherman and Disney animator Andreas Deja who talk about the making of the movie and share anecdotes as well. 
  • Sing-Along With The Movie - Here's the previous sing along extra that's been carried over from the previous release.
  • The Bare Necessities: The Making Of The Jungle Book - This is the most interesting extra for me because during its almost hour long length it covers pretty much everything you need to know about the film's production. It's a pretty honest account where we hear about the internal struggles over the film's direction and how the original songwriter was replaced by the Sherman Brothers when his music was deemed too dark by Walt Disney. 
  • Disney's Kipling - A look at the differences between the novel and this film.
  • The Lure of 'The Jungle Book' - The impact of the film has made several prominent animators to choose animation as their profession including such luminaries as Andreas Deja and director Brad Bird.
  • Mowgli's Return To The Wild - Bruce Reitherman who voiced Mowgli talks about his father Wolfgang (who directed the movie) and his career as a wildlife photographer.
  • Frank & Ollie - Two of Walt's Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston talk about how they bring characters to life in their animation.
  • "I Wanna Be Like You" Music Video Performed By Jonas Brothers
  • Disneypedia Junglemania! - A look at the real life animals that inspired the various creatures in the movie.
  • DVD copy of the film
  • HD copy of the film
Summary (5 out of 5 stars)
This is one of my favorite Disney movies and I'm happy to report that this new Diamond Edition Blu-ray looks and sounds great and you can't beat the extras that have been included. This release is an easy one to recommend as it's filled with great songs and some of Disney's best characters packaged together in this fantastic Blu-ray.

Order your copy today!

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