Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories The Jungle Book is the 19th animated feature by Walt Disney and the last he worked on, dying 10 months before its release. Set in the jungles of India, Bagheera the panther finds the man-cub Mowgli abandoned in a wrecked boat and takes him to be raised by wolves.
When it is learned that Shere Khan the tiger is returning to the jungle, the wolfpack decides Mowgli needs to be returned to the man village for his own protection and theirs. Bagheera volunteers to take him, but Mowgli resists, leading to a series of wild and wooly adventures. He makes friends with Baloo the bear, a baby elephant, and a group of vultures, but can they help when he gets caught in the coils of Kaa the snake, is kidnapped by King Louie’s monkeys, and comes face to face with Shere Khan? Being a Disney film, The Jungle Book’s conclusion isn’t surprising, but the trip has been so entertaining it more than makes up for it.
The film’s main strength is the voice talent. Disney fans should recognize Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera) and Sterling Holloway (Kaa) from their previous work on Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Phil Harris (Baloo) went on to play another bear (Little John) in Robin Hood. Louis Prima as King Louie and George Sanders as Shere Khan round out the cast of familiar and distinctive voices.
The Blu-ray comes with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.75:1. Colors appear in strong hues and blacks are deep. The image is sharp, allowing the animators' drawings to shine through, like their use of different types of lines. The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Dolby Digital Mono. The former is clean, but front-heavy as expected for a soundtrack of its age. The surrounds get full use during the musical numbers.
The disc is packed with extras, new and old. New features include Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller (HD, 1 min) and Richard M. Sherman (HD, 30 sec) offering introductions, but they have to be accessed separately. If the movie is paused, the Bear-e-oke sing-along feature activates; it can also be accessed through the menu. Music Memories & Mowgli is a discussion with Sherman, Miller, and Floyd Norman (HD, 10 min) about the movie in the Walt Disney Family Museum. Alternate Ending - Mowgli and the Hunter (HD, 9 min) has been created in storyboard form and is narrated by the animator who drew them. I Wan'na Be Like You: Hangin' Out at Disney's Animal Kingdom (HD, 18 min) is an awful bit of synergy as two annoying kids, G and Blake, take viewers behind the scenes at the Orlando park. @DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity (HD, 9 min) spotlights a studio program that promotes inspiration and innovation.
The remainder of the extras are from The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD and all are in SD. Under Backstage Disney: The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book (46 min) is an extensive documentary with new interviews and archival footage. Disney’s Kipling (15 min) looks at the pre-production phase and at how Walt took the original story and made it lighter. Animators reveal how they were influenced in The Lure of The Jungle Book (9 min). Mowgli's Return to the Wild (5 min) reveals Bruce Rietherman, voice of Mowgli and son of the director, has become a nature documentarian. Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston get their own segment to discuss character animation (4 min).
Deleted Scene: The Lost Character - Rocky The Rhino (7 min) tells the story of a character that never made it past the storyboard phase. He was going to be voiced by Frank Fontaine, who used to work with Jack Benny. Bugs Bunny fans will know his voice as the basis for the character Pete Puma. Rocky was going to be in a scene with the vultures, but Disney thought the frenetic scene threw off the pacing. The scene recreation looks much more interesting than the elephant scenes, which were slowed and dragged the movie down. Disneypedia: Junglemania! (14 min) teaches about the animals in the Asian jungle.
Music & More: Disney Song Selection to pick four tunes and have the lyrics play on screen. A video for “I Wan’na Be Like You” by Jonas Brothers. Maybe if I were a ten-year-old girl this would be worth hearing their boy-band rock version. The audio commentary features Bruce Reitherman: Disney animator Andreas Deja, who has been with the company since 1980: and composer Richard M. Sherman. There are also archival appearances from different members of the crew. The track is very insightful.
The Jungle Book is high-quality entertainment expected from Walt Disney and the Diamond Edition Blu-ray is a great showcase with a satisfying high-def presentation and many extras to explore. It's a necessity for your video library.