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Monday, February 10, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Jungle Book – Diamond Edition’

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘The Jungle Book – Diamond Edition’ on Blogcritics.

JBDisney has updated many of their classic films to Blu-ray. One of the most recent titles to get this treatment is The Jungle Book, now available. Like its peers, the picture and sound have been refined so, while the presentation does still feel dated, it is the clearest and most vivid its ever been, certainly way better quality than a DVD would offer. Add to that a slew of bonus features, and this Diamond Edition is a solid release.

For those unfamiliar with the 1967 animated film, or if you’ve just forgotten, The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), a Man Cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India. Knowing that the tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders, All About Eve) is nearby and will want to kill Mowgli, the wolf pack casts out the boy to protect themselves. Determined to save him, both from the tiger and the truth, Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot, Family Affair) sets about trying to return Mowgli to his own kind.

The story of The Jungle Book is a tad thin. The whole 80 minute running time is Mowgli’s journey, which only covers a short distance, but takes awhile because he keeps getting distracted along the way. Mowgli is taken under the wing of jungle bear bum Baloo (Phil Harris, Robin Hood), kidnapped by King Louie (Louis Prima, Casino) and his monkeys, hypnotized by Kaa the python (Sterling Holloway, Alice in Wonderland), and befriended by the elephant squad led by Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley, 101 Dalmatians). Basically, it’s a road movie, but with very tame roadside attractions.

But while the structure itself is weak, the humor and the charm of the piece more than hold up today. Some of the dialogue and many of the personalities are quite entertaining. The songs remain catchy and fun. A few bits are borderline racist, and while that isn’t excusable, even for the time, it also isn’t blatant or mean-spirited, as best as I can tell. Basically, it’s still family-friendly and enjoyable to watch.

There are a wealth of special features. Some go behind-the-scenes, and while none are as deep as one might want, or as enlightening as some past Disney releases, The Jungle Book‘s production wasn’t fraught with the drama or experimentation that other pictures were. It was from a time when Disney cranked out the stories at a steady pace, already figuring out what they stood for in the industry and embracing their formula. A couple of bonuses are for the kids, such as the sing-along, though the words appear a little late on screen to truly keep up with the melody.

The deleted sequences actually show how The Jungle Book could have ended up worse. The alternate ending, presented in storybook fashion is drawn out and horrid, not at all satisfying the conclusion the movie sets up. The writers were smart to go the way they went. Abandoned character Rocky the Rhino is relatively useless, so not missed. And the alternative vulture song, which would have matched the style of the Beatles as much as the characters’ accents and hair-dos do, isn’t that great, either. These inclusions will make you grateful for the finished product.

In all, The Jungle Book is a pretty strong release for a movie that would only rank in the middle of the pack among Disney classics. That makes it better than expected, enhanced by an ineffable quality that is more engrossing than the individual parts present. Children should appreciate it, and I look forward to introducing it to the next generation of my family.

The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition is available now.

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