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The Jungle Book (2016): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Jungle Book (2016): Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Blu-ray 3D + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
The Jungle Book (2016) has been rereleased in a 3-disc Collector's Edition.
Read our review of the Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo.

The Jungle Book (2016) movie poster The Jungle Book

Theatrical Release: April 15, 2016 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jon Favreau / Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay); Rudyard Kipling (books)

Cast: Neel Sethi (Mowgli) / Voice Cast: Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Lupita Nyong'o (Raksha), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela), Christopher Walken (King Louie), Garry Shandling (Ikki), Brighton Rose (Gray), Jon Favreau (Pygmy Hog), Sam Raimi (Giant Squirrel), Russell Peters (Rocky the Rhino)

Buy The Jungle Book from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

With acquisitions Marvel and Lucasfilm supplying box office behemoths and both Disney and Pixar's animation divisions consistently finding success, the need for live-action movies made by Disney has diminished and in turn, the output has slowed. The class, which grew by as many as eight films a year in the mid-1990s, continues these days with around three new releases per year. One of those is usually a true sports drama, which has been a studio staple for some time. A newer staple is the live-action remake of an animated classic.
You can trace this tradition back to the '90s, when the Glenn Close-headlined 101 Dalmatians was a huge hit. The global returns of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent, the studio's 2014 reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, seem to have renewed Disney's commitment to this kind of remake, a less objectionable cash-in on established brands than the company's direct-to-video animated sequels of the '90s and Noughties.

It's a little bit of a stretch to call 2016's The Jungle Book live-action because apart from the young human protagonist, the cast is comprised entirely of CG-animated animals. Most of the settings, too, are achieved by visual effects, having been shot on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles. The 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's stories was the last animated feature Walt Disney lived to see through near-completion and it remains one of his more highly regarded works. Disney has gone back to the well plenty of times before, from utilizing the characters in the early '90s Disney Afternoon cartoon "TaleSpin" to making 1994's forgettable live-action film starring Jason Scott Lee as an adult Mowgli to giving 2003's direct animated sequel a theatrical release.

This Jungle Book shouldn't be confused for any of those. It arrived with a substantial $175 million budget and the heightened box office expectations that come with it. At the helm is Jon Favreau, who proved his ability to direct big-budget bonanzas on the first two Iron Man movies.

Mowgli makes a friend in the live-saving, debt-collecting brown bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray).

Indian-American newcomer Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, a boy who was raised by wolves and is living in the jungles of India. His guardian is the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), a cautious cat who thinks this "man-cub" ought to be returned to the man village where he was found as an orphaned infant. Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), the fierce, scarred, mankind-hating tiger, wants to take care of Mowgli himself, if you know what I mean.

The resourceful Mowgli winds up out in the wild on his own, a setting he's well-equipped for. Still, he runs into the giant python Kaa (Scarlet Johansson), who hypnotizes him with backstory. Then there's Baloo (Bill Murray, making his overdue first Disney-branded film), the lovable brown bear who saves his life and immediately has some return favors in mind (braving bees to fetch honey from atop treacherous cliffs). The next stop on this episodic journey is the realm of monkeys, whose temple ruins are ruled by King Louie (Christopher Walken), who in keeping with the film's scale is a massive orangutan.

The scarred, mankind-hating Shere Khan makes for an imposing main villain.

The 1967 film could be described as action-adventure, but it was also a musical comedy very much in the Disney tradition. This new filming has a few comedic bits, mostly from Murray as Baloo, but is certainly primarily an action-adventure film. Visual effects abound and,
though his direction is not easily identifiable or worth celebrating, Favreau has enough sense not to bog down the film with action sequences. The two best songs from the animated feature -- Baloo's Oscar-nominated "The Bare Necessities" and King Louie's "I Wan'na Be Like You" -- are gladly retained here. (A third, Kaa's "Trust in Me", gets covered in the end credits.) But the swingin' '60s atmosphere that those tunes embody in the cartoon is absent. Favreau's film is rather serious and a bit brooding, about what you expect from a 2016 tentpole. At least it's never dull or as unremarkable as last year's Cinderella.

King Louie, a comic villain in the animated film, is turned into a serious and foreboding threat here. Kaa, in his her brief appearance, is not just sly but a genuine predator. The same elephants whose militaristic marches were played for laughs before are treated with reverence, their passing prompting genuflection for the creators of this jungle. This Jungle Book is not nearly as much fun as Walt's one, but it remains watchable and interesting, even as it piles on the tragedy and completely rewrites the ending.

It's a bit of a mystery how screenwriter Justin Marks, whose two previous feature scripts were for a TV movie called Rewind and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, got the job and didn't even have to share credit with anyone else. But his screenplay is adequate, as is most of this film, which avoids the retooling and pandering that made Maleficent and 2015's Cinderella underwhelm.

The Jungle Book exceeded all expectations at the box office, its staggering $364 million domestic and $961 million worldwide grosses besting the hauls of nearly every live-action Disney movie ever. Having recently inched past Deadpool domestically, Jungle Book now ranks 3rd commercially among all 2016 releases both domestically and worldwide, trailing only two other Disney releases (Captain America: Civil War plus Finding Dory domestically and Zootopia worldwide) in this remarkable banner year for the studio.

Despite those colossal numbers and warm receptions from both critics and the public, The Jungle Book has not gotten Disney to release it in a Blu-ray 3D edition. Instead, it reaches stores today in a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here. At least the studio's announcement has indicated that a 3D edition will be available by year's end, so if that's a deal breaker for you, you'll want to hold your horses for a few months.

The Jungle Book (2016): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

I realize now my theatrical screening of The Jungle Book was marred both by blurry 3D and unremarkable sound. The film made a much bigger and better impact on me in this first-rate Blu-ray presentation. The 1.85:1 picture is vivid, immaculate, and well-defined, showing off visuals that are often quite glorious. Better yet is the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, which is as active and immersive as any other I've encountered. Had the film opened around Christmastime, it could be looking at sound Oscar contention. Instead, it will just have to settle for having one of the best Blu-ray mixes around.

Chef Jon Favreau reflects on his flavorful concoction in "The Jungle Book Reimagined." Jon Favreau gets in the water to help Neel Sethi sing "The Bare Necessities" atop a Baloo stand-in in "I Am Mowgli."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Jungle Book gets better bonus features on Blu-ray than most new films do these days.

First up, "The Jungle Book Reimagined" (35:02) is more substantial and distinctive than most new films' featurettes are. Shortly after the film's release, Favreau sits down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to reflect on the movie. They discuss the project's conception, development, design, and visuals. The pieces goes into detail on the use of motion capture in animating the animals, the voice cast assembled, and John Debney's score, sharing plenty of appropriate behind-the-scenes footage in the process.

"I Am Mowgli" (8:18) looks at how Neel Sethi landed the film's only live-action role and his experience as a first-time actor without traditional co-stars.

Christopher Walken records the song "I Wan'na Be Like You" in one of the layers of "King Louie's Temple." The DVD of The Jungle Book (2016) drops most bonus features, but keeps the same tasteful menu scheme.

"King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer" (3:14) shows us Richard Sherman visiting the symphony about to record "I Wan'na Be Like You" and then plays the scene jumping between storyboards, different stages of animation,

footage of Sethi acting against blue screen, and Walken recording his vocals. It conveys just how many layers there are to a big budget, effects-heavy tentpole like this.

Finally, we get a feature audio commentary by director Jon Favreau. Solo commentaries are not an easy thing to pull off, but Favreau has two things aiding him here: a clear passion for the project and a whole lot of layers to comment upon. He provides a mix of technical and narrative observations, with plenty of screen-specificity and no interest in talking down to the youngsters who might have chosen this soundtrack. Among the topics covered, he talks upon the influence of Apocalypse Now on King Louie's scene and homage to and departure from the animated film.

Because Disney has treated DVD like a second-class product for nearly a decade now, standard definition viewers only get "King Louie's Temple", not the commentary, documentary or Neel Sethi featurette, despite the dual-layered disc being well under capacity.

The tasteful main menu adapts the book animation imagery from the end credits with score.

The discs open with a Disney Movies Anywhere promo and trailers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Zootopia. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing runs a Disney Movie Rewards promo before repeating the two disc-opening trailers.

Alongside the two plainly labeled discs, the side-snapped keepcase (whose artwork is doubled in an extensively holographic slipcover) also holds a Disney Movie Club insert and a sealed packet holding your digital movie code (an evidently new development for Disney).

The monkey King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) is much more gigantic and threatening than his Disney animation counterpart.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The most surprising thing about The Jungle Book might just be how ridiculously successful it was in theaters. Jon Favreau gives us a technically sophisticated and generally competent new take on the story that previously became one of Disney's best animated features. This may not have been totally necessary, but at least it's not totally redundant or superfluous either.

Disney's Blu-ray combo pack complements fantastic picture and phenomenal sound with surprisingly good bonus features. If this is a film you intend to revisit enough to want in your collection, this set gets the job done unless you demand 3D, in which case you should wait for the Blu-ray 3D edition that is due by the end of the year.

Buy The Jungle Book from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
The Jungle Book (1967) The Jungle Book 2 Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994) TaleSpin: Volume 1
New to Disc: The Angry Birds Movie Me Before You | 2016 Blockbusters: Zootopia Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by Jon Favreau: Iron Man Elf
Ben Kingsley: Hugo The Walk | Bill Murray: Fantastic Mr. Fox | Lupita Nyong'o: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Maleficent Cinderella (2015) Alice in Wonderland (2010) 101 Dalmatians (1996) Tarzan

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Reviewed August 30, 2016.



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