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The Bare Necessities - The Jungle Book: Sing Along Songs DVD Review

Buy Sing Along Songs: The Bare Necessities from Amazon.com The Bare Necessities - The Jungle Book
Sing Along Songs DVD Details

Running Time: 28 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Original Release Year: 1988

Song List: "The Bare Necessities" (The Jungle Book), "You (Are a Human Animal)" ("The Mickey Mouse Club"), "Cinderella Work Song" (Cinderella), "Old Yeller" (Old Yeller), "Figaro and Cleo" ("Figaro and Cleo"), "Winnie the Pooh" (Winnie the Pooh Featurettes), "I Wanna Be Like You" (The Jungle Book), "Look Out for Mr. Stork" (Dumbo), "Ev'rybody Wants To Be a Cat" (The Aristocats), "The Ugly Bug Ball" (Summer Magic), "The Bare Necessities" Reprise (The Jungle Book)

1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English (Enhanced for Hearing Impaired); Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: January 3, 2006
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase
As the third program of its kind that Walt Disney Home Video created, it's clear that Sing Along Songs: The Bare Necessities - The Jungle Book did not suffer from a lack of great songs or common theming, two complaints that could easily be lobbied against the fourth production, You Can Fly! - Peter Pan. Nearly twenty years since their initial VHS releases, both of these compilations, marketed behind the imagery of two of the most popular animated films from the later parts of Walt Disney's career, have now come to DVD alongside two slightly more recent programs of this type.

As a group, the Sing Along Songs videos have taken as long to come to DVD as just about anything in Disney's catalogue, with the possible exception of made-for-TV movies and themed episode compilations. Still, I somehow doubt many fans of the studio's output let out a big collective breath earlier this month when four Sing Along collections dating ten to eighteen years old were digitized. With a $14.99-per-half-hour-program list price, no bonus features, and lacking picture and sound quality, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has not given even the most ardent followers of the format a reason to invoke nostalgia, celebrate the studio's works, and proudly line these discs up next to those of their corresponding films (three of which have been out of print for years).

Ludwig von who? Jiminy Cricket is your host this time around. Bare or bear? Either way, the song rocks!

Nonetheless, The Bare Necessities provides about as much entertainment as you could hope for in a brisk 28-minute program thanks chiefly to a stellar lineup of classic Disney tunes. Though this volume opens with the commonly-seen musical introduction by Professor Owl and his eager class, the ball is then turned over to Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio's goofy but good pint-sized conscience. Jiminy, who makes for a more likable host than the more frequent emcee Ludwig von Drake, explains the theme is animals, which conveniently gives this title free rein to invoke almost every Disney animated film made up to 1988 and many live action works too.

As was the Sing Along Songs trend, the title track appears first and is reprised at the end. Oscar-nominated, "The Bare Necessities" was the only number from The Jungle Book not written by the Sherman Brothers. It was penned by Terry Gilkyson, who if these lyrics are correct, missed a gigantic wordplay opportunity to capitalize on the fact that the song's performer Baloo is a bear. Nonetheless, with alliteration and bounce to spare, the song is one of the most memorable written for a Walt-era cartoon. "I Wanna Be Like You" (a title which is sometimes apostrophic, though not here), likely the second most beloved song from the 1967 film, also appears, as the sixth song in the program. The Sherman Brothers' catchy verses of this tune delight as much as Louis Prima's scat detours. Those obviously cannot be subtitled with lyrics (the unique feature of Sing Along Songs fare), but other passages in the program are less explicably unaccompanied by graphics. As is the case with other volumes in the series, the absences here are inconsistent and somewhat hard to forgive. Otherwise, the plain lyric graphics employed are easy to follow with the simple two-line format allowing enough time for even slow readers to keep up.

Feline nightclubs are unparalleled for psychedelic entertainment. Goateed individuals don't often turn up on a Sing Along Songs program, which makes the presence of Burl Ives and the charming "Ugly Bug Ball" all the more appreciated here.

Three other highly enjoyable songs enable you to marvel at Richard and Robert
Sherman's keen abilities to write catchy numbers that perfectly complement the Disney studio's storytelling styles. "Winnie the Pooh", the opening title theme to the Hundred Acre Wood featurettes of the '60s and the gang's many modern day follow-ups, cycles through different instruments for each character introduced. To get the most mileage out of it, it is repeated, though lyrics oddly only appear on the second run-through. "Ev'rybody Wants To Be a Cat" provides a dose of psychedelia; it endures as the best thing about The Aristocats. Finally, "The Ugly Bug Ball" may offer an out-of-place but delectable interlude in the otherwise fairly serious Summer Magic, but it makes for an apt inclusion here as one of two selections from live action films. Driven by the warm vocals of Burl Ives, this goofy song tells of an insect dance which brings merriment. For this Sing Along, its '60s-sounding instrumental portion has been lost and footage from what I believe is the 1930s short "The Woodland Cafe" takes over for the caterpillar-in-hand farm visuals in the second half.

The remaining five songs may not be as universally charming or commonly celebrated as the aforementioned, but they do not make the first half of the program (where they mostly lie) noticeably weaker than the second. "You (Are a Human Animal)", written by "The Mickey Mouse Club" head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd, performed by Jiminy Cricket, and set to a medley of clips from Disney shorts and features, oddly celebrates mankind's intellectual dominance over the other creatures in the world in the "aw shucks" way you'd imagine. "Figaro and Cleo" explains the unlikely friendship found between the cat and fish from Pinocchio. It originated from a 1943 short of the same name that has yet to be issued on DVD but is glimpsed at here. "Old Yeller", the memorable title tune from the 1957 drama of the same name, is played over a montage from the film, the same tactic employed for the "Pooh" theme song's second repetition. Those who view Cinderella more fondly than I probably consider the mice's "Cinderella Work Song" (or "Cinderelly, Cinderelly", as it's commonly called by fans) a highlight of the disc. It and "Look Out for Mr. Stork" from Dumbo round out the fun and fast-moving program.

Only Jimmie Dodd could come up with lyrics like these. I don't think that's Cinderelly. Do you?

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disney's rationale must be that someone buying an 18-year-old Sing Along Songs video isn't expecting reference quality DVD picture and sound. They do not get it. Instead, The Bare Necessities looks about how it might have as a brand new video, only with higher resolution. The video quality is pretty shoddy and tough to classify as a whole. The title song's two appearances look spotty, but "I Wanna Be Like You" from the same film holds up quite well. The excerpted number from Dumbo looks more like video than film, Old Yeller has an unfortunate yellow tint, and the Jiminy Cricket footage is very worn with ubiquitous clutter appearing to various degrees. It's also worth mentioning that the portions from Summer Magic and Old Yeller
are likely open matte (though I'm skeptical that the widescreen presentation is best for the latter); that may also be true of The Jungle Book portions (I'm guessing we might find out when its Platinum Edition is released next year). The various cartoon shorts sampled for "You (Are a Human Animal)" and "Ugly Bug Ball" also do not look very good. On the whole, it's watchable, but it ranks among the least pleasant looking Disney DVDs.

The sound claims to be Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it appears encoded as such, but it certainly feels like two-channel stereo. Whether that's because the program is almost entirely composed of music that was not designed to engulf you or offer channel separation or because the disc's producers merely wanted to tout 5.1 to heighten your expectations, I don't know. You probably don't know or care either. But it's disheartening that a greater effort hasn't been made with the audio, as the dialogue and verses can be downright muffled at times. The entire program is also offered in French; the on-screen lyrics and foreign dubs suggest this was something done several years ago, so it's also a case of recycling rather than innovation. For anyone fluent in French or learning the language, it does increase the value of the disc a bit. The rest of us can just be amused that the "bug" in "The Ugly Bug Ball" is translated as "mille-patte" (literally, "thousand leg") in the French version.

Sure Figaro looks like a cute little kitty, but he's got one thing on his mind: fish dinner. The animated Main Menu seems familiar in a way.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN

No bonus features here, partner. There is an insert and an animated main menu, which is more than some other studios may provide but nothing that makes the list price more understandable.

The 4x3 main
DMC_300x250
menu was clearly constructed from the same mold as all of the other Sing Along Songs DVDs of the past four months have been. Musical notes bounce from right to left while the background features Mowgli and Baloo floating by. Instrumental takes on the Sing Along Songs theme are incorporated into each menu (outside of Sneak Peeks), though none except the Main are animated.

Sneak peeks play at the start of the disc for Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, the February 2006 Disney Princess wave (Disney Princess Learning Adventures and Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Volume 3), and the delayed pair of standard Disney Learning Adventures Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes and Wonderful Word Adventure. The menu holds more long-seen spots for Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure, Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition, Bambi II, and "JoJo's Circus" on Playhouse Disney.

King Louie lets you know how cool he is. The Best Doggone Dog in the West thanks you for reading this review all the way through. Remember that -- it could come in handy some day.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You Can Fly! left me unimpressed last week, but using the same format, Sing Along Songs: The Bare Necessities (created just a few months earlier) proved to be a fairly enjoyable 28-minute volume thanks to a more noticeable theme (the widely-encompassing "animal" angle) and an undeniably stronger song list. You could go your entire life not seeing a Sing Along Songs program and you wouldn't be missing much. The Bare Necessities won't convert you if you don't already see any worth to the format, but it will provide you with a better time than the three concurrently-recycled movie-titled volumes. Disneyland Fun seemed to stand out from the theme park Sing Along batch last fall and The Bare Necessities does to a milder degree with this January's less inspired lot. While this brief, unremastered, and extra-less disc can't merit a recommendation at its low but still excessive list price, you can currently nab it for a fiver plus shipping on Amazon Marketplace, which will be worth it if: A) you or your child digs Disney songs, B) you feel the need to own one of these newly-resurfaced Sing Along Songs DVD, or C) you hold a particular nostalgic attachment to this individual disc.

More on this DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Sing Along Songs: You Can Fly! - Peter Pan Sing Along Songs: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - I Love to Laugh
Sing Along Songs: Sing A Song with Pooh Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Once Upon a Dream
The Jungle Book The Jungle Book 2
Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club
Old Yeller (2-Movie Collection includes Savage Sam) Pinocchio
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Dumbo (60th Anniversary Edition)
The Aristocats Summer Magic

Related Pages:
UltimateDisney.com's Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Sing Along Songs DVDs on the Direct-to-Video Page | January 2006's Disney DVD Releases

Reviewed January 9, 2006.