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 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 pack decides Mowgli needs to be returned to the man village for his own protection. 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 the obvious finale.
The film’s main strength is the voice talent. Disney fans should recognize Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera the panther) and Sterling Holloway (Kaa the snake) from their previous work on Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Phil Harris (Baloo the Bear) went on to play another bear (Little John) in Robin Hood. Louis Prima as King Louie of the Apes and George Sanders as Shere Khan the tiger rounded out the cast of familiar and distinctive voices.
The two-disc Platinum Edition offers a lot of content for adult fans and children discovering the film for the first time.
Disc 1 offers a commentary track that’s insightful in a lot of areas where the film succeeds. The participants are Bruce Reitherman, who played Mowgli and was the son of the director, 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.
Music was always a prominent part of Disney films and The Jungle Book was no exception. It had two hit songs: “The Bare Necessities” by Terry Gilkyson, and “I Wan’na Be Like You” by the Sherman brothers, Robert B. and Richard M., which featured a great scat duo between Prima and Harris. The DVD allows you to pick four tunes and have the lyrics play on screen. There’s 21 minutes of demos from deleted songs. The only extra not worth looking at is a video for “I Wan’na Be Like You” by Jonas Brothers, obviously some Disney property, with their boy-band rock version. Maybe if I were a ten-year-old girl this would be worth hearing.
The character Rocky the Rhino 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 film’s pacing. The scene recreation looks much more interesting than the elephant scenes, which were slowed and dragged the film down.
Disc 2 gives a choice of heading to Jungle Fun or Man Village. Jungle Fun includes games and activities for young viewers and “Disneypedia: Junglemania” which teaches about the animals in the Asian jungle. Man Village is for the serious Disney fan. It presents “The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book,” an extensive documentary with new interviews and archival footage about the film’s creation. “Disney’s Kipling” is a 15-minute look at the film’s pre-production and at how Walt took the original story and made it lighter.
The film’s animation is great looking and showcases an authenticity that computer animation has yet to achieve. It’s no surprise many animators reveal how they were influenced in “The Lure of The Jungle Book.” Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston get their own segment to discuss character animation. A number of art galleries can be perused.
The Jungle Book 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition is a great addition to the video library for families and even more so for fans of the film and animation in general. A viewer’s appreciation will only grow when they see a peek at the process. The DVD is not a bare necessity, but it’s very close.