Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book is how the vast majority of us know Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories from the late 1800’s. That is also true of the many other fairytales Disney has turned into films, starting with Snow White. Those that are a little better read, know that Disney versions of the classics are often stripped down and made a little more family than their originals. This was certainly done with The Jungle Book, which was originally a collection of short stories that were previously published in periodicals over a couple of years.
Shoehorning a Nobel laureate’s collection of stories into less than an hour and a half long animated film is an accomplishment in itself. What eventually came of the effort was a fitting Swan Song for the iconic Walt Disney. Animated Disney films that came before never had celebrity voice actors and I’d argue Phil Harris and Louie Prima really make the movie. The characters of Baloo and King Louie and are easily the most memorable, though the entire casting effort was a general success. The effort paid off when it was released in 1967 with “The Bare Necessities” earning an Oscar nomination.
Walt Disney Studios has finally pulled The Jungle Book out of the vault and included it in their Diamond Collection. All films released in the Diamond Edition line have been enhanced to 1080p high definition and are presented in their original aspect ratio with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Considering I originally saw this film in its first re-release back in 1978 and recently rewatched it on Laserdisc, I can attest that this is the best the movie has ever looked. It truly looks like a new movie, with all of the film artifacts cleaned up and crisp contrast. Moreover, Prima’s “I Wanna Be Like You” never sounded so good on any recording I’ve ever heard and the 7.1 channel surround separation is excellent.
Though I understand much of the criticism some have of the Disney-fication of classic stories, I personally think it’s overblown. Firstly, I haven’t seen a movie yet that’s been based on a book, and is truly watchable, that a number of fans of the book don’t complain about. The more important virtue of Disney films are, that they bring these classic stories into modern times and many viewers will then go and read the source material, discovering something completely new. In a new digital age, any exposure to classic literature should be considered a boon. While this may have been less true, when The Jungle Book was first shown, it certainly is the case now.
For most people, re-watching The Jungle Book is a trip down nostalgia lane and the Diamond Edition of the film is easily the superior format. 1080p resolution and your choice of 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the original theatrical mix, and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in French and Spanish easily put the blu-ray on top. This package also includes a huge number of featurettes and other extras that make the purchase worthwhile for those Disneyana enthusiasts that will watch them all. There is an alternate ending with an interesting story behind it, a deleted scene, and even an interview with Walt’s late daughter Diane. The full list of the package’s extras includes nearly a two hours and dozen things to watch, about half of which are mirrored on the included DVD. A digital copy is also downloadable.