Beautiful pencil strokes and a purposefully saggy narrative arc are the heart of Walt Disney’s final hands-on animated feature. Man Cub Mowgli’s optimistic adventure clashes with Rudyard Kipling’s original story, Disney’s The Jungle Book grafted with a family touch and infectious songs from the Sherman Brothers.
Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) is the film’s center even if it the bumbling bear Baloo (Phil Harris) snatches much of the feature’s charm. Left in the jungle by his parents, Mowgli is raised by wolves until the jungle fears the arrival of Shere Khan (George Sanders). Plucked by a protective guide Begheera (Sebastian Cabot), Mowgli begins a defensive march toward his own civilization much like these features began to grow into Hollywood’s mold.
Jungle Book is an unmistakable product of the ’60s, from its trumpeting score to animated TV influences. Celebrity voices seeped into the cast to bolster appeal as the home entertainment stranglehold continued to hemorrhage box office receipts – not that Disney’s finances needed help.
Released 10 months after Walt’s passing, this is a leisurely stroll through a gamut of memorable character designs, foregoing the supposed necessity of storytelling punch. Who needs purpose when the Sherman brothers are spilling their best work? “Bare Necessities” suits the lean constructed piece, built on sight gags first while story slips into neglected shards.
Mowgli is amongst the least interesting of these jungle misfits, built from curious monkeys and strict elephants. They create Mowgli’s personality which is stunted from his animal interactions. Through these encounters, his growing playfulness inserts the child-like spark pulled from Walt’s mind. Jungle Book is soaked with color and infinite energy, even overactive as the piece pushes from one set piece to the next. Like a child itself, Jungle Book almost shows a resentment for those time outs.
Of course, this is brought to life by an animation crew with dazzling skill, making those few recycled bits totally forgivable. Per expectations, Jungle Book thrusts realism onto the frames of talking animals, escaping with a design purity that is nothing short of iconic. From a belligerent Mowgli to Shere Khan puffing his shoulders as he enters attack mode, this is substantial work and notable effort.
Child-like sensibilities relieve Jungle Book from producing metaphors, instead charting a path for a lead character who must realize where he belongs. Walt’s final feature was designed for pure escapism and dazzling animation escapades. It’s pure, fluffy, and the final look inside an animated mastermind’s grandiose ideas.
Restored to appreciable perfection, Disney pushes this feature to Blu-ray with a high resolution presentation and the now predictable grain removal. Preserved are the remarkable sketch lines which make up this feature, left alone without digital mangling. Background texture is marvelous and purely defined.
Diamond Edition releases continue to achieve visual purity, brought to life sans compression flubs or print damage. Jungle Book is flawlessly pushed onto this disc with appropriate high bitrates. Six or seven years ago this disc would have been a technical marvel, only now it has become such a standard it’s typically impeccable. Raising standards have formed this into a state of normalcy.
Unmolested colors carry the weight of the flushed greens and yellows, often making up backdrops. A slight jump in saturation over DVD is harmless, merely glossing this spectacle with HD heft. A handful of darker sequences at night bring about pure black and beautiful blues for contract. Splashes of white create a soft moonlight. With the clarity afforded to the disc, each frame becomes its own unique framed art. Digital tools utilized to free these cells from film grain remain unseen.
Restoration (or preservation) has been cautious and respectful to the source. Price premiums often added to Disney discs are not without reason, certainly selling a name without resting on its popularized laurels. There is a generation of kids growing up and watching these features in unheard of clarity due to the work performed. Those days of hazy VHS are mercifully gone allowing fresh animation minds to see these features in unblemished detail.
Remastered in 7.1 and using almost none of those additional channels, Jungle Book is sonically scrunched to a front loaded presentation. Little action occurs away from the center channel, although musical numbers will breach easily into the stereos. Rear speakers find themselves handling a limited bleed of instruments and mild echo in certain moments. The subwoofer hits the drums with a satisfying result.
And, all of this is fine. Jungle Book never needed a rush of modern audio glitz, and this reserved offering feels proper. It proves a go-between for mono perfectionists and modern theater enthusiasts.
Lacking for both is fidelity – at least away from Sherman brothers tunes. Voices carry a small crackle and fade, some clearly representative of dated studio recordings. Clean up has pierced through static or pops, relieving those age related blemishes, keeping whatever is left.
Diane Disney Miller and Robert Sherman each offer introductions and in a somewhat spooky coincidence, Jungle Book could be Diane’s last disc appearance after her unfortunate passing in late 2013.
Music, Memories, and Mowgli is a colorful conversation with Miller, Sherman, and story artist Floyd Norman as they reflect on the project for 10 minutes. An alternate ending is recreated by modern storyboard artists with information pulled from early drafts in a new feature. Wan’na Be Like You follows two way overexcited kids as they go behind the scenes of Animal Kingdom. A sing-a-long offers five songs and @DisneyAnimation is a promo on innovations at the studio.
DVD features remain, headed by a commentary with animator Andreas Deja and voice actor Bruce Reitherman, with inserts pulled from archival material. Bare Necessities is a five part making-of and a wonderful watch. Smaller featurettes close out (and complete) this extras slate.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.