After making The Sword in the Stone, story man Bill Peet came to Walt Disney claiming that they could do more interesting animal characters and suggested adapting Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Disney agreed, but took a more hands-on approach than he had during the last several pictures because The Sword in the Stone had received a rather negative reaction.
In fact, Disney threw out most of the original version of the screenplay and fired Peet and composer Terry Gilkyson due to it taking on a darker and more sinister tone. Disney wanted something lighter and more fun. It is said that he told his new crew to not even read the book so as to not be biased by its darker themes and proceeded to tell his own version of the story.
The results are a film that is devoid of any darker tones, sinister aspects, depth of story, or meaningful themes. It is however a joy to watch and an absolute classic family film.
Its plot, what little there is, centers on Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), a lost-in-the-jungle baby that is discovered by Bagheera, a black panther, and raised by wolves. Years later, it is learned that Shere Khan (George Sanders), a Bengal tiger with a great hatred for mankind, is back in this section of the jungle, and it is tasked to Bagheera to take Mowgli to a human village a few miles away in order that he is not killed, nor the wolf pack that protects him.
What follows is a series of light-hearted adventures where Mowgli befriends Baloo the Hakuna-Mata-living bear (Phil Harris), is almost eaten by Kaa the snake (Sterling Holloway), escapes a gang of monkeys, encounters a group of Beatlesesque vultures, and fights off Shere Khan. It's all played out like a fun adventures story where even the villains get a jazz soundtrack and nobody seems all that menacing.
The music is great, especially the Oscar-winning “Bare Necessities,” which was the only song they kept that was written by Gilkyson. It is a ridiculously catchy ear-worm of a song that stays in your head for days after hearing it.
The MPEG-AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 ratio looks incredible. It got a complete remastering for this Diamond edition, and I doubt it even looked this good when it was first screened in theaters. The sound likewise has been re-mastered and sounds terrific. There are a few moments when it's obvious that the original mono soundtrack has been split a bit too much in order to work on home theatre systems, but mostly it sound really good. Especially the songs.
This edition is loaded with extras. There’s audio commentary by Bruce Reitherman and composer Richard Sherman with edited-in interview footage with some of the original production team. Growing up with Nine Old Men is a series of interviews with the children of Disney’s inner circle of animators. It's forty minutes of essential viewing for anyone interested in the development of Disney or even early animation. There’s also an alternate ending that has been newly storyboarded and is narrated by one of the new animators. The remaining new extras are the usual Disney fluff pieces about upcoming video releases and the Animal Kingdom theme park.
The Blu-ray also contains many of the old extras ported over from previous DVD releases. These include deleted songs, a karaoke version of all the songs, a wildlife video, a deleted storyline featuring a new character - Rocky the Rhino - and a making-of documentary.
The Jungle Book is notable for being the last picture Walt Disney was involved with before his death. It has his handprints all over it. It is a wonderful, delightful film that is perfect for the entire family. This Diamond Edition will likely be the definitive version of the film for years to come. Highly recommended.