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The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition DVD Review

The Jungle Book movie poster The Jungle Book

Theatrical Release: October 18, 1967 / Running Time: 78 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Voice Cast: Phil Harris (Baloo the Bear), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera the Panther), Louis Prima (King Louie of the Apes), George Sanders (Shere Khan the Tiger), Sterling Holloway (Kaa the Snake), J. Pat O'Malley (Col. Hathi the Elephant), Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli the Man Cub), Verna Felton (Winifred the Elephant), Clint Howard (Junior the Elephant), Chad Stuart (Flaps the Vulture), Lord Tim Hudson (Dizzy the Vulture), John Abbott (Akela the Wolf), Ben Wright (Rama the Wolf), Darleen Carr (Shanti the Girl)

Songs: "Colonel Hathi's March", "The Bare Necessities", "I Wan'na Be Like You", "Trust in Me", "That's What Friends Are For", "My Own Home"

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Page 1: The Movie, Video and Audio
Page 2: Bonus Features, Menus and Packaging, Closing Thoughts

Disc 1's most exciting video bonus introduces us to Rocky the Rhino, a visually-impaired character that was cut in development. Cardboard cut-outs of Jungle Book characters are all the rage with today's teens. This I learned from the Jonas Brothers' "I Wan'na Be Like You" music video. Roy Disney talks about the connection between Disney and animals in a promo for a conservation fund that the company can't decide on just one name for.

BONUS FEATURES

Bonus features begin on Disc 1 with "Lost Character: Rocky the Rhino" (6:35). Part-featurette, part-deleted scene (storyboards are narrated and shot/edited to infer motion), the piece informs us of the visually-impaired rhinoceros that comedian Frank Fontaine was to have voiced.
Mowgli meets the tough-talking Rocky, which leads to the vultures singing a version of "That's What Friends Are For" that's more '60s rock than the barbershop quartet rendition in the film.

The first of three entries under the Music & More heading is the music video for "I Wan'na Be Like You" (2:45). It puts the Jonas Brothers' teenaged punk rock sound to King Louie's song, with results that unsurprisingly aren't too sweet. If nothing else, the video does reveal just how popular cardboard cut-outs of Jungle Book characters are with today's adolescents.

Disney Song Selection gives you an opportunity to view "Colonel Hathi's March", "The Bare Necessities", "I Wan'na Be Like You", and "That's What Friends Are For" with the lyrics displayed as simple subtitles. As usual, it's little more than a limited scene selections menu (from which two songs are inexplicably missing), but some may appreciate the ability to watch a 12-minute, mostly-musical version of the movie.

Easily the most exciting extra of the section is 21 minutes of demos of deleted songs composed by Terry Gilkyson. They were written for a Jungle Book that was to be more serious and less hip. "Brothers All" offers a dramatic opening, "The Song of the Seeonee" mines group wolf howls for music, and "The Mighty Hunters" provides morbidity. There's also an alternate version of "Bare Necessities", Mowgli's folk ballad "I Knew I Belonged to Her", and the upbeat, '60s-sounding "Monkey See, Monkey Do" and "In a Day's Work." To sum up, none of these demos really seem worth replacing existing songs, but they're very much worth a listen for an aural taste of how different the movie could have been.

Happily, The Jungle Book falls into the class of Platinum Editions that offer audio commentary. Its track features composer Richard Sherman, modern animator Andreas Deja, and Mowgli voice Bruce Reitherman. It's a spirited discussion which sounds as if it might be two separate sessions combined. All three speakers are in awe of the film and each brings a unique, relevant perspective, with anecdotes and researched information nicely complementing each other. Deja has facts and keen observations, Reitherman is clearly a well-versed animation buff, and Sherman has vivid stories to tell and a bit of piano to play. In guest archival appearances, the trio is occasionally joined by director Woolie Reitherman, animator Ollie Johnston, and writer Larry Clemmons, and others. While busy and a little over-produced, the commentary packs a lot into the relatively light runtime, rewarding all those who choose to give it a listen.

Rounding out the first disc is a promo for the Disney Wildlife/Worldwide Conservation Fund (3:33), which balances footage of animals in the wild and at Disney Parks with scenes from Disney movies featuring animated and real live animals, with a little Roy Disney spiel thrown in for good measure.

Disc 1 opens with promos for Enchanted, the Disney Movie Rewards program, Meet the Robinsons, Ratatouille, and The Aristocats: Special Edition. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional previews for Return to Never Land, High School Musical 2, The Santa Clause 3, and the Adventures By Disney vacation program.

In making-of documentary "The Bare Necessities", songwriter Richard Sherman is among the many people directly associated with the film who appear in early-'80s interview footage. He's also one of the few who comment in new, present-day sit-downs. Storyboard art depicts King Louie leading Mowgli and the monkeys in the somewhat bland featurette "Disney's Kipling." Glen Keane is among the number of modern animators who sing the film's praises in "The Lure of 'The Jungle Book'."

Disc 2 divides its supplements into two classes. Man Village houses the making-of materials. The centerpiece is "The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book", a terrific new bonus which can be viewed as either five featurettes or a fluid documentary (46:24). This thorough retrospective systematically covers the story, animation, voices, and music, plus Walt Disney's personal involvement. New interviews are complemented by early '80s sit-downs with crew members (most of whom have since passed away) and we hear from animation historians, present-day animators, and those directly involved with the film. While it's expectedly filled with praise, there's a lot of information about the production that flows forth and one's got to appreciate that an effort was made to interview even those with limited participation on the film (like Clint Howard and Chad of Chad & Jeremy). While the structure is a bit rigid and the dizzying pace leaves a little to be desired, this is really an excellent companion to the feature and the one supplement that will most satisfy and enlighten viewers.

"Disney's Kipling" (15:00) compares Kipling's novel to Bill Peet's early 1963 film treatment (with narrated storyboard images) and of course, the final product. While the character and plot revisions discussed are inherently interesting, this featurette is fairly dry.

"The Lure of The Jungle Book" (9:26) allows contemporary Disney animators to heap praise on the film that planted the first seeds of interest towards their eventual careers. Those appearing -- a mix of the studio's go-to DVD subjects and some lesser-featured animators -- include Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg, Will Finn, and James Baxter. They talk of their fond childhood memories of the film (regardless of what part of the globe they were on), single out individual animators' contributions, and discuss how they inspired some of their specific work in recent cartoons.

"Mowgli's Return to the Wild" catches up with Bruce Reitherman, the voice of Mowgli, who's still in film but is now making a different type of animal movie - the nature documentary. Legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston talk briefly about character animation in "The Jungle Book" in this brief vintage excerpt of unknown origin. Though he's colored gold in some early renditions, this vision of Baloo from the Character Design gallery looks just like the final product. There's more color than you might expect in the Storyboard Art gallery.

"Mowgli's Return to the Wild" (5:10) catches up with Bruce Reitherman, who discusses his career as a nature documentarian as well as the filmmaking philosophies imparted to him by his father.

The menu's listing "Frank & Ollie" may lead some to expect the feature-length 1995 documentary of the same name, but in fact this is "Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation", a 3-minute, 45-second piece ported from laserdisc that looks like it may be from the late 1970s or early 1980s. The two longest-living of Walt's legendary "Nine Old Men" share some animation philosophies and feelings in a fun way.

Required of any major animated film, Art Galleries are next and number six. As usual, the 56-still Visual Development offers the greatest variety and holds some of the more artsy paintings that differ considerably from the film's final look. Character Design, which wisely isn't divided into separate sections for each character, supplies 63 images of model sheets and conceptual sketches. Housing 78 frames, Storyboard Art delivers mostly what's expected, only many of its pictures aren't too rough and a considerable amount are even in color. The self-explanatory Layouts and Backgrounds provides 45 looks at vacant jungle locations from the movie in various states. Next are 40 Production Photos depicting story men, animators, voice artists, and musicians at work. Finally, though largely void of poster art, the Publicity gallery serves up 14 fun photos, mostly of the voice actors posing "with" their animated counterparts. Overall, this praiseworthy section delivers the goods. It's orderly and fairly well-designed, with only a few navigation nuisances (gladly, maddeningly recurrent strands of music aren't among them).

Few things in life are as frustrating as following playing Kaa-Zen-Tration, the first of four games that make up Baloo's Virtual Swingin' Jungle Cruise. Louie's Lounge -- press the arrows as directed or do nothing but watch. It's all good. If there was any question as to whether it'd be worth inserting the DVD into a computer for the two DVD-ROM activities, let this screencap remove it.

Jungle Fun holds the rest of the content, which is aimed more at young viewers. First is "Baloo's Virtual Swingin' Jungle Cruise", which it's clear that lots of work went into. Unfortunately, this connected collection of four games succeeds much more at frustrating than exciting. Kaa-Zen-Tration is the stuff of migraines and epileptic seizures as viewers are supposed to choose which of three sets of eyes match Kaa's hypnotic pair. The multi-colored eyes are constantly swirling, then changing, as response time grows increasingly short.
It took me a good fifteen minutes to get through it and this quarter-hour was anything but fun; I can only imagine how tough kids will find it.

Next, Hathi's Boot Camp is a repeat the pattern activity, as viewers are supposed to recreate the elephant colonel's rhythmic orders; it's only a little easier than the last task, mostly because of the ability to repeat the pattern and lack of time limit. Buzzard Shop Quartet follows, and it's easily the shortest, simplest, and most fun of the set-top activities; players keep count of how many vultures are on the branch as some come and go. Finally, the insufficiently explained Louie's Lounge proceeds just fine without touching the remote, but if you want to win, you've got to press the featured arrow. Linking the four activities is song and narration from Baloo (perhaps Patrick Warburton?) who proceeds down a computer-animated river. With all the effort that went into making this, you think more could have gone into making the games fun and more appropriately challenging.

"DisneyPedia: Junglemania!" (14:19) applies the reliable DisneyPedia treatment to The Jungle Book, profiling the behaviors of characters' real-life counterparts. Outside of the resident zoologist, all should find themselves somewhat educated by the coverage of bears, black panthers, elephants, orangutans, vultures, snakes, and tigers. Well-timed clips from the movie also help amp the entertainment value of this lengthier-than-usual installment.

The section comes to an end with "The Jungle Book Fun with Language" Games, consisting of two set-top and two DVD-ROM activities. In each short game, viewers answer a few simple animal questions that are designed to enforce connections between spoken words and their text form. To their benefit, the short activities change upon return visits and also wield English as a Second Language value when played with the instructions spoken in French or Spanish. Still, the section can be easily skipped by all but the very young and obsessive supplement completists.

While the supplement slate looks impressively grand, it's definitely a few notches below those provided for Platinum Editions before the jump to biannual releases. One glaring shortcoming is the lack of theatrical trailers for the film, one of which was included on the 30th Anniversary Edition laserdisc. Another is the exclusion of the laserdisc featurette "The Making of a Musical Masterpiece", which may have been somewhat redundant but still would have been very much worth including.

An elephant from the movie is compared to the real thing in "DisneyPedia: Junglemania!", easily the best bonus in the kiddie section. "The Bare Necessities" is the first of three musical numbers the Disc 1 Main Menu showcases. Kaa pops up now and then on the Disc 2 Main Menu. Man Village Good, Jungle Fun Not So Much.

MENUS and PACKAGING

Within its three-dimensional jungle layout, Disc 1's Main Menu coolly cycles through a number of songs and their performances from the film, offering something of a nifty musical revue. Disc 2's Main Menu opts for an instrumental of "Trust in Me" with intermittent Kaa appearances.

Par for a Platinum Edition DVD, there's an unusually high volume of in-case inserts.
These include a brochure for a jungle-themed Golden Adventure Sweepstakes and a booklet filled with product ads (and just one coupon) which announces the direct-to-DVD feature Snow Buddies for 2008 release. Finally and most importantly, the six-page, fold-open DVD Guide provides a paragraph on each key bonus feature, a layout of the two discs' contents, a scene selections list, and the usual Platinum Editions spiel (which this time confirms 101 Dalmatians and Sleeping Beauty as next year's two Platinum DVDs).

The external packaging is a full-fledged attempt to catch customers' eyes, as the obligatory cardboard slipcover (which, like recent Platinum Editions, doesn't open like a book) serves up striking holography in some parts and extensive embossing in most others. Some may question the point of this so-called "O Sleeve" packaging, as it merely reproduces the keepcase artwork below.

Baloo and Mowgli offer one of the most endearing friendships in a Disney film. The relationship between the sharp-clawed Shere Khan and Kaa is less friendly.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Jungle Book is one of the best animated films ever made and of those from Walt Disney's time, it is among the most likable and accessible. This much-awaited Platinum Edition is a clear upgrade over the movie's long-discontinued, barebones Limited Issue disc, but it still leaves some room for improvement. In light of the production, the widescreen presentation should have been one of two offered and though a majority of the making-of content here is quite good, more bonuses could easily have been included -- like trailers and the existing featurette, for instance -- instead of devoting efforts to the frustrating set-top games. Of course, as is usually the case for those in Disney's Platinum line, any complaints pale when placed next to the positives. You're still getting a classic film with great picture and sound plus a plethora of worthy supplements, all for a ridiculously low release date price. Don't hesitate to add this fine DVD set to your collection.

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Reviewed September 30, 2007.