Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Jungle Book (1967)
Studio Line: Disney - The Jungle is JUMPIN'!

One of the most popular Disney films ever, The Jungle Book is a song-filled celebration of friendship, fun and adventure set in a lush and colorful world. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling's "Mowgli" stories, Disney's 19th animated masterpiece was the last animated feature that had Walt Disney's personal touch.

The jubilant adventure begins when Mowgli, a little boy raised by wolves, is urged by his friend Bagheera, a wise old panther, to seek safety in the man-village. Feeling very much at home in the jungle, Mowgli resists and runs off. Much to Bagherra's dismay, Mowgli meets a new friend with a happy-go-lucky- philosophy of life -Baloo the bear, a lovable "jungle bum." Together, the three buddies find the journey back to civilization anything but civilized! They encounter a crazy orangutan, the hypnotic and sly snake Kaa and the menacing Shere Khan!

Now available in this DVD edition, Disney's enduring classic swings with jazzy, toe-tapping music including the Academy Award - nominated "The Bare Necessities" and the freewheeling "I Wan'na Be Like You"! A thrilling story for all ages, The Jungle Book's timeless appeal makes it an absolute necessity for your collection.

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
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 Club
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Song-"The Bare Necessities", 1968.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround, French & Spanish Digital Stereo; subtitles none; single side - dual layer; 24 chapters; rated G; 78 min.; $34.99; street date 12/7/99.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B+/F

The Jungle Book was the very last film over which Walt Disney had any direct input. Actually, at that point in his life, he'd largely left the workings of the animation studio to its own devices; the "Nine Old Men" - a group of animators who'd been with the studio for many years - knew what Walt'd like or dislike pretty well by that point, and Disney himself had been much more preoccupied with other ventures like Disneyland and then was concerned with the enterprise that would become Walt DisneyWorld.

Disney died before TJB itself hit movie screens in 1967, though the film was essentially completed by the time of his demise. Its enormous commercial success - it stands as the ninth highest-grossing film of all time in adjusted dollars (aided by reissues, though) - seemed to augur well for the studio's fortunes but in reality, the film signaled the start of a nearly 20-year malaise for the studio, though no one would really notice this until later.

Actually, I suppose it could be argued that the "Dark Period" had already begun at Disney with 1963's The Sword in the Stone. That film was both a critical and commercial disappointment after the huge success of 1961's 101 Dalmatians and it remains one of the least-liked of all the animated features. In that regard, TJB appears to have offered a respite from the coming storm.

I guess I regard the problems that come fromTJB as more indicative of the studio's decline because Disney always produced the occasional clunker, so TSITS should not be regarded as such an unusual effort. What was surprising was that they followed it up with another fairly weak film in the form of TJB; two disappointments in a row was pretty hard to fathom. Unfortunately, that string would go well beyond two movies; Disney animation wouldn't produce another thoroughly satisfying film until 1989's The Little Mermaid, which means they went a period of 28 years between consistent pictures.

Please don't interpret my negative comments about this long era as construing that I find the films in question to be bad or unwatchable. Actually, I think all of them - even the most disliked efforts such as 1973's Robin Hood - have some merits and they generally make for enjoyable viewing. The problem is that from Disney, a solid and pleasant movie isn't enough; the studio's rich history practically demands that every film be a gem. After all, this is the company that has the audacity to proclaim most of its animated films as "classics"; you can't sustain chutzpah like that on a consistent train of subpar films.

Whether last hurrah of Walt's world or harbinger of future failure, I just don't find The Jungle Book to be a very entertaining film. I can't really nail down what's wrong with it, though, other than a general lack of spark. One major problem stems from the picture's general lack of plot. A vague storyline exists: get Mowgli out of the jungle and into the "man village." Mowgli - in a Peter Pan-esque refusal to enter the adult world - doesn't want to go, and only does so eventually when his hormones kick in after he sees a sexy (to him, at least) Indian babe.

That's a pretty loose basis for a film, but it could have worked. Although I'm in the minority, I really liked the Disney version of Alice In Wonderland, and it offered a similarly vague plot. However, I found the episodes included in that film entertaining and clever, whereas everything that happens in TJB just seems to be an excuse to get to another musical number. In Alice..., the lack of cohesive narrative functioned as a strength because it offered a fairly chaotic view of the environment, something that the film needed; in TJB, however, it usually seems more like we're watching a variety show than a movie, and the emphasis on song and dance serves no similar story purpose.

Ultimately I find TJB to offer a mildly entertaining diversion, but it's one that seems to always remain disappointing. The characters are fairly interesting, the songs are good, and the animation is fine. However, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and I just can't get myself involved enough in the story to enjoy the film. As always, your mileage may vary!

The DVD:

The Jungle Book appears in a fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In regard to the dimensions, it seems completely unclear whether or not 1.33:1 duplicates the original theatrical ratio or not. I rented the title from Netflix, so I cannot refer to any statements on the DVD's case; my 1997 laserdisc of the film states simply that the movie is "presented fullframe."

IMDB indicate that the film was shot 1.37:1 but "intended" to be seen 1.75:1. That may well be correct, but at this point, I don't think I'm going to find a definitive answer. All I do know is that I noted no signs of cropping on the sides of the frames at any point during the movie, so this edition does not seem to represent a "pan and scan" transfer. The original theatrical release may have used slight matting to achieve 1.75:1, and I did note some slight space at the tops and bottoms of the frames. Other than that, 1.33:1 looked about right to me.

In general, the DVD provides a solid picture. Sharpness seems consistently pretty good, but some softness can intrude on the affair, especially in some wider shots; the smaller the characters, the fuzzier they look. Of course, that's not an unusual concern, but it seemed more problematic than typical for an animated feature. Print quality appeared pretty strong; I noted a bit of grittiness, and a hair here or there, but not much, especially considering the age of the film. (One note: TJB came out the year of my birth, so hold off on the cracks about how old it is, please! I feel overly decrepit as it is!)

Colors look generally solid although a bit on the light side. The film usually offers something of a pastel look, with soft colors dominant, and the DVD replicates these adequately. Black levels are decent, but I found shadow detail to seem a bit weak at times; in nighttime scenes, it can be a little too hard to penetrate the darkness. Still, the DVD's flaws are pretty minor, and TJB looks consistently pretty good.

The Jungle Book offers reasonably nice Dolby Surround audio. What was originally a monaural soundtrack has been remixed into a passable surround mix, with unspectacular but decent results. Really, the audio remains largely monaural. Some stereo effects appear from time to time; we might hear a voice emit from a side speaker, and a neat "ringing" effect accompanies a scene in which Baloo shouts in Bagheera's ears. The surround channel basically just gently reinforces the music, which is presented with a very good stereo track.

Really, the music offers the best quality in this mix; the score itself seems surprisingly bright and clear, with some nice depth as well - note the bass guitar that accompanies the vultures. Strangely, the music sounds slightly thinner and less vivid when it appears in the form of actual songs; these still seem good but not as rich as the score itself. Dialogue appears clear and relatively natural, though it can be a bit flat, and effects also seem fairly realistic. The audio won't dazzle you, but it's very good for a film from this period.

The biggest complaint about most of the animated Disney DVDs stems from their lack of supplements. The Jungle Book is no exception to that rule. We get nothing - not even a trailer. What makes this worse is the fact the 1997 LD - which listed for $30 in its CLV incarnation, $10 less than this DVD's initial price - tossed in a nice 15 minute documentary about the film. Boo!

Recommendations are a little tough for me because I do like Disney features so much. I didn't think all that highly of The Jungle Book, but as a Disney fan, I'd want to own it anyway just as a completist. The DVD certainly offers solid picture and sound quality, though it severely lacks extras. The Jungle Book may be something you'd like to add to your collection; your desire will probably depend on your level of Disney affection. On its own, the film isn't anything special, but it's worth having to round out a collection. However, of the 11 Disney animated titles currently available on DVD (including The Nightmare Before Christmas but omitting straight-to-video productions), I consider The Jungle Book to be the weakest, so if you can't afford all of them, you may want to prioritize this one off your list.

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