Diamond Edition Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book
Disney Diamond Edition
Blu-Ray / DVD / Digital Combo Pack
78 min, Rated G

The Jungle Book was the 19th animated film out of the Walt Disney Animation Studio, and was released in 1967. Famously known as the final animated feature in which Walt Disney was personally involved, it is the 9th release in Disney’s “Diamond Edition” collection.

The films in the Diamond Collection represent the best the studio has to offer. They are released bi-annually, are in circulation for a short period of time and then are put into moratorium or “back into the Disney Vault.” Last released in 2007 on DVD, the Blu-Ray version of The Jungle Book receives upgraded video and audio, as well as a couple new special features. Is it worth the upgrade? Let’s find out.

THE FILM
Following the huge company-wide financial loss in 1960 (largely as a result of the expensive production costs of Sleeping Beauty), the studio had difficult decisions to make.

By this time, the studio had branched out and been successful in live-action films and had opened Disneyland several years prior. The internal focus now was not solely on animation, and after the debatable “failure” of Sleeping Beauty, cuts were made to the animation department. The subsequent films were made with less manpower, and even Walt himself had taken a back seat to focus on other company projects.

Bill Peet had been a story writer in the Disney studio since 1937, having worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and most pictures forward. Following Sleeping Beauty, he was given sole control of the story department on subsequent projects. Walt loved Peet’s treatment for 101 Dalmatians, and the film was a success critically and financially.

Peet’s next project, the Sword in the Stone, while a technical success financially, failed to measure up critically. After The Sword in the Stone, Disney and Peet agreed that Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book would be the studio’s next film, and Peet was instructed to work on a treatment. Peet’s treatment was in line with the original novels, which carried a dark and serious tone.

Early sketches of The Jungle Book

Because of The Sword in the Stone’s critical failure, Walt decided to take a significantly larger role in the production for The Jungle Book than he had in the years prior. Immediately, Walt felt the tone of the film as written in the treatment was not appropriate for family entertainment. Disney and Peet had serious disagreements on where the film should go, and not surprisingly, Disney won the argument and ultimately Peet was dismissed from the studio.

Larry Clemmons was then hired to write the film and Walt’s first advice to him while giving him a copy of the novel was “don’t read it.” Disney attended story meetings and assisted the writers in ensuring the film would focus on the characters. Out of these meetings, timeless characters such as Baloo, King Louie, Bagheera and Shere Khan were born.

The story of The Jungle Book is extremely straightforward. Mowgli, a human child who has been raised by wolves in the jungle is in danger. Shere Khan, the man hating tiger, has returned to the jungle and wants to dispose of Mowgli before he grows up to become an adult. Mowgli’s wolf family decides he is to be returned to the man village, and solicit Bagheera, the panther to assist in getting him there safely.

That’s it. The rest of the movie is the journey to the man village, with fun and memorable interruptions from some of the best characters to come out of the studio, including Phil Harris’ Baloo and Louis Prima’s King Louie. I have always immensely enjoyed The Jungle Book.

When I was much younger, before DVDs, I had missed the opportunity to purchase The Jungle Book on VHS and found out that it was in moratorium. One of the local video stores had a copy for sale, but since it was difficult to come by, it cost $50.00. This was quite a bit of money for an 11 year old. I remember working ridiculous odd jobs for family members to cobble up enough money to buy it. When I finally was able to, I played that movie to death.

The Jungle Book reminds me of Dumbo in a lot of ways. They both follow complicated movies that were less successful, and they both are extremely simple in their structure and animation. The Jungle Book is a crisp 78 minutes long, but feels much shorter when viewing.

Many films that are revered when you are a child seem to lose their shine as you grow older, but I find The Jungle Book to be the exact opposite. The playful, comedic simplicity of the characters serves as a reminder not to over think everything, and sometimes we need to just have fun.

Bare Necessities

This movie has been on non-stop in my home since its release, and it rapidly became my two-year-old daughter’s favorite thing to watch. Watching her watch it with a smile on her face for every frame shows just how well the movie works. Nobody cares about plot or story structure when singing along to “the Bare Necessities.”

While not as sophisticated or technically proficient as many in the Diamond Collection, the Jungle Book clearly demonstrates Disney’s personal involvement and shows why it belongs among the very best the studio has to offer.

This was the final film to have Walt Disney’s personal touches, as he died 10 months before its release, and sadly it is no coincidence that the studio wouldn’t have another masterpiece for over twenty years following his death.

THE VIDEO
The Jungle Book comes to Blu-Ray in a combo pack featuring a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy for download. Quite annoyingly, they did not offer a version that omits the digital copy, like on prior Diamond Editions. This isn’t a huge deal but absolutely destroys my compulsive need to have my Blu-Rays match aesthetically. Prior Diamond Editions featured a blue colored slipcover for the non-digital download version, and a gold slipcover for the versions that contain the digital download. Now we just get gold, and it sticks out on the shelf. (rant over)

The video is presented in a 1:75:1 ratio, which means on a widescreen TV there will be very small vertical black slivers on the sides of your television. The Jungle Book was created with both theatrical and home video aspect ratios in mind, so it can also be presented in 1:33:1, which would fill an old square television screen. In order to get the image to fit appropriately for widescreen TVs, a matte is placed on the top and bottom of the picture. These portions of the image are slightly cropped, but you will get more information on the sides than the 1:33:1 version. This will likely not be noticeable to most unless you make a direct comparison with your VHS or your “Limited Issue” copy of the Jungle Book.

When Disney restores the films in their Diamond line, they make the image appear as if it was just created. This has proven to be quite controversial. The image is scrubbed clean of all grain, and any dirt is cleaned and removed. Many film purists feel that this is a disservice, and the film should be presented with all the grain intact to give it an accurate film look. I think there are good arguments for either preference, but personally, I love how most Diamond Editions and other Special Editions have turned out using this method.

Trust in Kaa

As far as Jungle Book is concerned, it was the third feature film animated with a new animation method designed for cutting costs. A system was developed after Sleeping Beauty that allowed a camera to transfer the animators’ drawings directly onto the animation cels.

The method essentially cut out the inking stage and results in animation with a lot of the pencil lines in the finished art. This is why most post Sleeping Beauty films appear to be rougher, dirtier, and “sketchier” than previous ones. The look is prominent in 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book and Robin Hood.

The problem with the restoration method employed by the studio today is that, in scrubbing the grain away, there is a potential to lose some of the fine pencil lines in the image. If you want to see a horrid example of this technology, look no further than the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Sword In The Stone. The picture is often smeary, with very little detail and loss of pencil lines. This is unacceptable because it ruins the animator’s intent and the quality of the film.

The good news is the Jungle Book does not suffer from the same heinous digital noise reduction as its predecessor. While it often times looks uncharacteristically glossy, the overall quality of the image is very good. Colors are accurate and bright, the contrast is extremely good, and blacks are deep and inky.

However, if you look closely, some of the finer pencil lines around whiskers and similar features seem to fade in and out and during some of the frantic motion scenes, and there is some minor blurring. Without the original elements, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much of the pencil detail has been lost

The hand-painted backgrounds are absolutely flawless, and look gorgeous. Overall, I believe almost everyone will be very pleased with the video quality of the Blu-Ray. Certainly the best The Jungle Book has ever looked.

THE AUDIO
The Jungle Book comes with DTS HD-MA 7.1 mix, as well as a 1.0 original mono option. The audio is perfect. The dialogue is crisp with no loss of detail. The music and lyrics are as pitch perfect as ever. The 7.1 mix is obviously front heavy, but features some nice ambiance in the rears for musical numbers and jungle sounds. The Sherman Brothers songs have never sounded better. Overall, an extremely good presentation.

SPECIAL FEATURES
The special features on The Jungle Book keep all the previous features from the DVD Platinum Edition as well as a few new extras. New extras include “Music, Memories, and Mowgli,” which is a filmed conversation between Richard M. Sherman, Flloyd Norman, and Diane Disney Miller. Topics discussed include The Jungle Book’s songs, how it was made and the death of Walt Disney. A nice little feature of some real legends discussing the art.

Other new extras:

  • “Alternate Ending: Mowgli and the Hunter” is a storyboarded alternate ending, which is kind of lengthy, but narrated by Raymond Percy.
  • “I Wan’na Be Like You”is more or less a promo for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as the video follows two actors around the theme park and to learn about the animals and attractions.
  • “Disney Animation Sparking Creativity” details a studio project that is in place to foster new ideas through a “Spark Showcase.”
  • The “Bear-E-Oke Singalong” is just what it sounds like, a sing-along compilation of the songs from the film.

Overall, The Jungle Book Diamond Edition is an extremely strong release from Disney. With minor video issues aside, it’s certainly the strongest presentation of this classic by far. While the film lacks the weight and story of some of the other classics, the characters and songs alone elevate this film to the upper echelon. I would certainly give this disc my highest recommendation as it truly is a must own.

Have you bought your copy yet? You’d better hurry before it goes back into The Vault! 

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