The Jungle Book appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Oh, that aspect ratio! The 1999 release came with a 1.33:1 transfer, a fact that promptly set off many arguments about the film’s appropriate dimensions. Over the last eight years, I never found any convincing resolution to the issue. The best I could figure is that Book was framed 1.75:1 theatrically but composed in such a way that 1.33:1 worked as well.
Whatever the truth may be, I thought both ratios seemed fine. Unfortunately, I’m unable to directly compare the two transfers since I never owned the old DVD. I rented it for review and wrote that article so long ago that I can’t conjure apples to apples contrasts.
That said, I’m pretty sure the 2007 transfer improved upon its predecessor. Sharpness was usually good. Some softness occasionally interfered with wide shots, but the majority of the movie came across as accurate and well-defined. I noticed no shimmering, jaggies or edge enhancement, and the film came free from source defects. If any specks, marks or blemishes occurred, they evaded me.
Colors pleased. The jungle setting offered a good selection of natural tones that the DVD reproduced in a satisfying and vivid manner. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadow detail seemed a little problematic. Nighttime shots looked fine, but it often became somewhat tough to make out the nuances in the fur of the various animals. At times Bagheera became reduced to a blob with eyes, as I couldn’t discern much definition in him.
So with some softness and these shadow issues, how come I gave the transfer a “B+”? Because the flick looked too darned good as a whole to deserve a lower grade. In addition, I found it tough to establish that some of the shadow issues didn’t result from the original art. Lighting seemed perfectly appropriate through the film, so it’s not like a general sense of darkness made the various characters more difficult to discern. If those issues are unique to this DVD, then drop the grade down to a “B”, but if they stem from the original shading, keep it at a “B+”.
The Jungle Book offered reasonably nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. What was originally a monaural soundtrack has been remixed into a passable surround piece, with unspectacular but decent results. Really, the audio remained largely monaural. Some stereo effects appeared from time to time. I heard an occasional voice emit from a side speaker, and thunder rumbled in a nice manner. The surround channel basically just gently reinforced the music, which was presented with a pretty good stereo imaging.
Really, the music offered the best quality in this mix. The score itself seemed surprisingly bright and clear, with some nice depth as well - note the bass guitar that accompanied the vultures. Strangely, the music sounded slightly thinner and less vivid when it appeared in the form of actual songs. These still seemed good but not as rich as the score itself. Dialogue appeared clear and relatively natural, though it could be a bit flat, and effects also were fairly realistic. The audio won't dazzle you, but it's good for a film from this period.
Note that I thought the audio of this 2007 DVD sounded a lot like the Dolby Surround mix from the 1999 release – at least based on my comments in my old review. If the 5.1 track offered any improvements or substantial changes from the 2.0 predecessor, I didn’t sense them. On the positive side, though, the 2007 disc offers the movie’s original monaural track, something omitted from the 1999 release.
While the 1999 DVD included no extras, this “40th Anniversary Platinum Edition” throws out a bunch of them across its two platters. On DVD One, we begin with an audio commentary from actor/director’s son Bruce Reitherman, composer Richard M. Sherman, animator Andreas Deja, director Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and writer Larry Clemmons. Note that Bruce Reitherman, Sherman and Deja were recorded together for this commentary, while the others come from archival sources. The DVD’s producers edit all this together, so the parts with Sherman et al. are screen-specific but the others aren’t.
The track looks at story and character issues, cast and performances, music and songs, animation techniques and styles, the (non)adaptation of the novel, working with Walt Disney, and a few other production issues. At its start, the commentary proves unimpressive. We get lots of praise and not a lot of insights.
Happily, matters improve before too long – around the time we hear about the initial “dark” take on the story and Walt’s directives to make it lighter. From there we get better information about the different aspects of the production. Bruce gives us interesting comments about his performance, while Deja manages to provide some historical and technical perspective for the animation; he didn’t work on the movie, but he knows his Disney history. We still find more happy talk than I’d like, but the commentary improves and becomes quite stimulating. Overall, the track provides a nice examination of the flick.
One Deleted Scene appears. It looks at a “lost character” called “Rocky the Rhino” and runs six minutes, 35 seconds. It uses narration, storyboards and archival audio to show where Rocky would have appeared in the film and what he would’ve done. We also hear a “British Invasion” version of the vultures’ song. I like this portion of the disc, as it gives us a cool look at an alternate possibility for the flick.
Three pieces show up under “Music & More”. First comes a music video for “I Wan’na Be Like You”. This accompanies a modern rock version of the tune played by Jonas Brothers. The video mixes some movie clips with a lip-synch performance by the band. It’s a pretty lousy affair in all ways.
Also in “Music & More”, we find seven Deleted Songs. Taken together, they run a total of 21 minutes, six seconds. All composed by Terry Gilkyson, we hear “Brothers All” (3:51), “The Song of the Seeonee” (2:28), “The Bare Necessities (Demo Version)” (3:09), “Monkey See, Monkey Do” (2:54), “I Knew I Belonged to Her” (2:20), “In a Day’s Work” (2:51) and “The Mighty Hunters” (3:31). As we learn elsewhere, Gilkyson acted as the original composer for the film, though his work mostly went bye-bye when Walt dictated that Book take a lighter tone than planned during Gilkyson’s tenure.
This means the “Deleted Songs” area provides a lot of unheard music. Only “Bare Necessities” made it to the final film, and the rendition heard here sounds almost nothing like the familiar version. We also get some hints of the darkness that would’ve popped up in this take on Book from tunes like “Brothers All”; with lines like “give us freedom or soon we die”. Some how I don’t think stuff such as that would’ve fit with the happy-go-lucky film that ended up on screens. The fact that these songs are so different from the familiar tunes makes them a valuable addition.
A common feature found on many other Disney animated DVDs, Disney Song Selection basically acts as an alternate form of chapter menu. It lets you jump to any of the film’s four song performances, and it also allows you to show on-screen lyrics. This is a staple of Disney DVDs, and it’s harmless if uninspired.
Disc One launches with some ads. We find clips for Enchanted, Disney Movie Rewards, Meet the Robinsons, The Aristocats and Ratatouille. These promos also appear in the Sneak Peeks domain along with trailers for Return to Neverland, The Santa Clause 3, High School Musical 2 and “Adventures by Disney”. Elsewhere we locate a piece to advertise the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
As we shift to DVD Two, the components split into two domains. Those that examine behind the scenes elements come under Man Village. This area opens with a documentary called The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book. This 46-minute and 24-second show mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Sherman, Woolie Reitherman, Deja, Clemmons, Bruce Reitherman, Johnston, Thomas, animators Glen Keane, Will Finn, Milt Kahl (from 1984), Eric Goldberg, Marc Davis (from 1985) and James Baxter, author/film historian Brian Sibley, writers Ken Anderson (from 1983) and Vance Gerry (from 1985), story artist Floyd Norman, animation historians John Canemaker and John Culhane, filmmaker Ted Thomas, author Neal Gabler, director Brad Bird, composer Robert Sherman, story artist Burny Mattinson, and actors Phil Harris (from 1983), Chad Stuart, and Clint Howard.
“Bare” examines Walt’s impact on the production and the work of story man Bill Peet. We learn of the film’s story development, its characters and their design, notes about some of the filmmakers and their special talents, the voice cast, score and songs, Disney’s death and what it did to the studio, and the film’s reception.
Like many programs of this sort, we get more praise than I’d like; that side of things gives the show a less objective tone. It also repeats some info from the commentary, though not as much as I’d fear. Instead, “Bare” provides a pretty strong examination of the film’s creation. We get useful details about the various aspects of the flick in this enjoyable piece.
For a look at the source material, we head to the 15-minute Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magic Touch on a Literary Classic. It depicts the differences among three versions of Jungle Book: Kipling’s original book, Bill Peet’s initial adaptation, and the final version. This doesn’t offer a complete compare/contrast examination of the different renditions, but it highlights the biggest variations and provides a satisfying look at the subject.
Next comes The Lure of The Jungle Book, a nine-minute and 27-second featurette with notes from Deja, Finn, Bird, Canemaker, Ted Thomas, Keane, Goldberg, Baxter, and animator Sergio Pablos. An appreciation for Jungle Book, the animators discuss what the film meant to them as kids and how it impacted on their choice of career. They also offer a general appraisal for its charms.
Obviously this means a lot of the praise I usually disdain, but in this context, I don’t mind the happy talk. The personal nature of the program makes those aspects acceptable. It’s nice to find out how the flick affected modern animators and to hear their thoughts about the work found in the picture.
Mowgli’s Return to the Wild goes for five minutes, nine seconds and presents remarks from Bruce Reitherman as he talks about his work as a nature filmmaker. This relates tangentially to Book since we learn a little about his relationship with his dad. Those are the best parts, as the bits about Bruce’s work are less involving.
Called Frank & Ollie, the last featurette runs three minutes, 46 seconds. Here animators Thomas and Johnston as they discuss how to do character animation of anthropomorphic animals. Despite the clip’s brevity, it’s quite informative. The two animators pack a lot of valuable insights into their brief chat.
“Man Village” concludes with some Art Galleries. These break into six subdomains. We look at “Visual Development” (57 images), “Character Design” (63), “Storyboard Art” (78), “Layouts and Backgrounds” (45), “Production Photos” (40) and “Publicity” (14). Prior galleries have been quite interesting, and this one follows along the same lines. We find plenty of cool art in this nice collection of images.
With that we head to Jungle Fun. Under the banner of Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise, we get four games. This area includes “Kaa-Zen-Tration”, “Hathi’s Boot Camp”, “Buzzard Shop Quartet”, and “Louie’s Lounge”. Most games on Disney DVDs are a drag, and that remains true here. They vary from annoying to boring and that’s about it.
Another feature with siblings elsewhere, we get an entry in the DisneyPedia line. Oriented toward little ones, this 14-minute and -second program teaches about various animals featured in Book. It’s a light but reasonably informative view that should be fun for kids.
We conclude with The Jungle Book Fun with Language Games. Very obviously intended for the wee ones, it offers some simple animal recognition contests. If you’re above the age of 5, it’s a waste of time.
Though The Jungle Book maintains a great fan base, I must admit it disappoints me. The movie boasts some charm and fun but it never coalesces into anything particularly memorable or creative. The DVD gives us positive picture and audio along with a collection of good extras. I definitely recommend this release to Disney fans, but I don’t like the movie enough to advocate its purchase for those with a lackluster interest in it.