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Wolfgang Reitherman’s The Jungle Book is my single favourite film in Walt Disney’s animated oeuvre, though I still recognize that this is a purely visceral reaction to the material and a true critical exploration would prove problematic. The Jungle Book has little intellectual intricacy – it is emotionally simplified, dramatically placating, and suffers the same ‘written in committee’ structural issues as most of the studio’s rougher achievements. But character depth and architecturally sound narratives aren’t the point of this particular exercise. The Jungle Book is a study in sound and motion, topped only by the pure musicality of Fantasia. To my mind, its sole purpose is as a platform for the Sherman Brothers’ and Terry Gilkyson’s joyful, jazzy music, and as an arena for some of the finest, hand-drawn animation ever put to film. On this scale, it is perfect. The disregard for the deeper, darker themes of Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories is theoretically disappointing on an scholarly level, I suppose (the ‘story,’ which was written by at least six writers/storyboard artists, is formed by its own episodic pacing), but one has to respect the studio’s ability with recontenxtualization. Disney’s Jungle Book, like Victor Fleming’s Wizard of Oz, exists on a parallel plane with its source material.

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

Video


Disney’s formerly flawless execution of their animation catalogue on Blu-ray came under fire recently when fans and critics noticed some of their less prestigious/sought-after features (namely   The Sword in the Stone and Oliver and Company) were the victims of overzealous DNR enhancement. Since then, their Little Mermaid release had some minor ‘smudge-stick’ effects, but Mary Poppins looked appropriately grainy and film-like. The Jungle Book is one of only three of the studio’s classics not to make it to the Blu-ray format (the remaining two being 101 Dalmatians and Aladdin), so the assumption was that the delay was a sign of a thorough scrubbing of the existing materials. This could mean excessive digital tinkering, but one hoped that the objections to the goopy DNR releases would keep the studio from wasting their time, making a 47-year-old movie look like it was digitally painted.

This 1080p, 1.75:1 (the ‘intended’ theatrical ratio, rather than the usual 1.66:1) transfer is, thankfully, not over-smoothed or blobby as far as I can tell. In fact, readers looking at the comparison pics on this page might not notice any difference between this release (top) and the Platinum Edition DVD (bottom) without clicking on the images to make them bigger (where all of the SD transfer’s compression noise and blocking is made obvious). The colour timing is very close. If I really squint, I can see that the Blu-ray is a smidge cooler, though not at the risk of the rich reds or lush greens. Contrast levels have also been tweaked a bit higher, leading to more dynamic colours and deeper blacks. The Jungle Book was animated using the then-new xerography process, a shortcut that Disney started using with 101 Dalmatians. Xerography allowed the animators to forgo the inking stage, but had a side effect – the pencil lines were usually not entirely erased. This resulted in the appearance of charming little ‘mistakes’ throughout the character animations. These artefacts were noticeable on DVD releases, but HD offers a chance to revel in the beautiful impurity of the hand animation process (along with the shadows cast by the cells onto the background paper). And, even though the grain has been mostly removed (which is a bit suspect, I admit), the fine details of the painted backgrounds are crystal clear, from complex patterns to the physical texture of the paper, itself.

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

Audio


The Jungle Book comes fitted with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio remix to go alongside its digitally remastered video. The remix matches the expectations set by similar Disney releases and remains relatively true to the original stereo/surround material. However, because The Jungle Book was originally presented in mono, rather than stereo (or even four channel surround, like some of their more expensive, older releases), so the remix is a bit more extensive and a bit further from the source material. Fortunately, Disney has included the original mono mix as well, though in the form of a compressed Dolby Digital track, which is disappointing. That said, I’m very satisfied with this uncompressed, slightly rearranged version of the DVD’s ‘Home Theater Mix’ (which is also included here in Dolby Digital 5.1). The sound has been augmented for the sake of immersion to a certain extent, but the bulk of the non-musical effects, including incidental foley work and the more cartoony additions, sit center with the clear and consistent dialogue (which is only spread directionally during singing). The music is the star of the track, though. It is given a tasteful stereo and surround enhancement, along with a nice, booming LFE bounce. The lack of compression makes a sizable difference when it comes to the intricacy of the softer instrumentations.

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

Extras


  • Two optional introductions, one by Diane Disney Miller and the second by composer Richard M. Sherman.
  • Audio commentary with Sherman, animator Andreas Deja, actor Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), and archive ‘guest’ commentators – This is the same commentary available on the Platinum Edition DVD.
  • Alternate Ending: Mowgli and The Hunter (8:50, HD) – A newly storyboarded version of an alternate ending or, rather, an entire fourth act that was newly discovered in the Disney vaults.
  • Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller, and Floyd Norman (9:50, HD) – A new group interview with the co-composer, co-writer, and Walt’s daughter.
  • I Wanna Be Like You: Hangin’ Out At Disney’s Animal Kingdom (18:30, HD) – A semi-educational, elongated commercial for Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando.
  • @DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity (9:10, HD) – A look at a idea-pitch tradition that exists at the current Disney animation studios.
  • Disney Intermission: Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along (also accessible through the main menu)
  • Classic DVD Bonus Features:
    • The Bare Necessities: The Making of the Jungle Book (46:30, SD)
    • Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magic Touch on a Literary Classic (15:00, SD)
    • The Lure of The Jungle Book (9:30, SD)
    • Mowgli’s Return to the Wild (5:10, SD)
    • Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation (3:50, SD)
    • Deleted Character: [I]Rocky the Rhino (6:40, SD)
    • Disneypedia: Junglemania! (14:20, SD)
    • Disney Song Selection
    • ’I Wanna Be Like You,’ Performed by the Jonas Brothers


 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

Overall


The Jungle Book remains my personal favourite of the Disney animated features, warts and all. This new Blu-ray release is probably the closest I’ll get to that initial theatrical experience, including a vibrant, sharp transfer and a very effective 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio remix (the original mono is also included). The new extras aren’t particularly impressive, but the old DVD extras are also included, giving fans plenty of retrospective information to cull.

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

 Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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