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RUNNING TIME: 78 Minutes
• Audio Commentary with Richard Sherman, Andreas Deja, Bruce Reitherman, and archival interviews with Larry Clemmons, Ollie Johnston, and Wolfgang Reitherman
• “I Wan’na be Like You Music Video” by Jonas Brothers
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• DisneyPedia: Junglemania!
• The Jungle Book: Fun with Language Games
• Rocky the Rhino featurette
• Deleted songs
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Making of the Jungle Book
“Four words: ‘Disney in the jungle.’ Commence money-printing now!”
Bruce Reitherman, George Sanders, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Clint Howard (!)
If you’re over the age of three, you know how this goes. Mowgli in jungle. Baloo in jungle. Wackiness ensues. Also—tiger’s in jungle. Tiger likes to eat man. Reduced wackiness ensues.
After watching The Jungle Book, I immediately called my dad and apologized for making him watch this one over and over again as a child. I realize now that was extremely cruel of me. The Jungle Book does not hold up well. Fact is, you could say it holds up rather poorly. We’re supposed to be lauding this bad-boy for this 40th anniversary edition; after all, this is the last cartoon that Walt himself personally supervised before his death. Should that alone make this one worthy of merit?
No. No, it shouldn’t. People retire for a reason, and sloppy work like The Jungle Book is proof-positive. Your work suffers, and when it has to compare with a half-century of some of the finest cartoon entertainment ever made also made by you, the faults become even more egregious.
Even as cartoons go, the plot here is thin. To avoid getting eating by the tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli the “Man-Cub” is escorted out of the jungle by guardian panther Bagheera. So far, so good. Kind of a Midnight Run-feel going on. But right around the point Mowgli meets Baloo the Bear, the film dawdles as Mowgli drifts from one minor set-piece to another before his “big” showdown with Shere Khan. Nothing much of consequence happens, and it’s killer in trying to maintain interest. Mowgli meets a talking animal. Depending on their intentions, he either walks away or is saved Baloo. Repeat for 78 minutes.
The problem is, we don’t get a lot of variety in the nature of his encounters, and yes, I realized I just used the word “nature” in talking about The Jungle Book. If the animal is friendly, we get ten minutes of excruciating dull banter (oh my Lord, how I hate the elephants and the vultures), and if they’re less so, we get the threat of Mowgli food (but not really since after all, Walt’s trying to sell tickets here) until comical pratfalls save the day. The format on its own isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s the repetition with which it’s treated. For a flick set in the jungle, we don’t get to see that many animals, so similar scenes focus around the same five or six animals. We get two similar elephant scenes, multiple scenes of Bagheera and Baloo arguing over Mowgli’s fate, and, my favorite, two Ka the snake bits, the second of which just recycles much of the same footage from the first. Usually, I love Disney cartoons for the sense of invention and fun in every frame. Here, I felt like the animators shared a big turkey and wine-box dinner and then passed on the apathy to the viewer! The animation also seems flatter, less expansive than the best Disney cartoons—the jungle never became more than a painting background. Not the best feeling.
More than the lazy filmmaking, I walk away with a slightly creepy feeling from this one. There’s a whole, “Love the Establishment” motif that I found weird and kinda fascist. The “heroes” of the piece are the noble, erudite leopards who control the goings-on in the forest, while the “hepcat” layabouts, in the form of the vultures, Baloo, and King Louie, are viewed as fun but frivolous or, in Louie’s case, a bit of a villain. I’m a child of two children of Woodstock (figuratively); this didn’t “jive” with me, man. Plus, all recognize man’s dominion over the other animals, making this cartoon hit the trifecta in terms of right-wing social conditioning the kids will love. And is it an accident that the two most dangerous characters, the ones capable of real violence (Ka and Shere Khan), are an effeminate snake and a tiger voiced by famed gay actor George Sanders? The realist in me says, yes, this is just a coincidence, but my Oliver-Stone-in-his-Talk-Radio-through-Nixon-days side says No! Disney thinks gays are evil! I know, this is stuff only a modern perspective brings, but it all seems a bit too obvious and calculated to me to be classified as “harmless.”
The Jungle Book isn’t all bad. The voice work on Ka is terrific, and the destruction of King Louie’s castle has a grandeur the rest of the flick could use. Let me see…yep, that’s about it. The rest really is all that bad. If I could, I’d go back and time and smack my six year old self upside the head every time he put in the VHS of this. Except that might cause a rift in the time-space continuum.
Fuck it, that’d be preferable to The Jungle Book.
Whatever flaws I have with the flick do not carry over to the transfer; it’s flawless. Not a scratch or speck of dust to be found. In some ways, this is bad ‘cause the increased clarity only highlights the rather pedestrian art, but it feels unfair to bash the restoration guys for doing an amazing job. Really good work. The 5.1 sound mix is a bit too intense for the type of flick this is. I prefer the mono track. As for the box, it’s just our principals gathered about on the cover. Nothing special.
At first glance, this disc looks stacked, but there’s really not that much interesting material if you’re older than six. Right off the bat you can scratch off the Virtual Jungle Cruise, DisneyPedia! and Fun with Language sections. They’re just DVD games, and they’re not particularly elucidating. The music video is also horrible—the Jonas Brothers could die tomorrow, and I’d not care. The commentary’s the first substantive feature, and it’s mostly just glad-handing over how great the flick is. The archival snippets were the best part because I’m morbid and like to hear the dead speak.
The Rocky the Rhino bit focuses on a character cut from the film. I thought it was interesting how Walt essentially folded him into the vultures, but his character didn’t seem terribly interesting—just a slow, stupid rhino. The deleted songs section was much more interesting, if only to get a sense of how much more epic the original version of the flick was (more on this later). Disney’s Kipling is a short piece on the differences between book and film. The “Walt’s Magic Touch” bit refers to his influence on the film, not his legendary “Stink Finger.” Rounding out the shorter features are some unadvertised ones, “The Lure of the Jungle Book” and “Mowgli’s Return to the Wild” looking at the influence of the film on its still-living creators, and “Frank and Ollie,” which is an archival interview of animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. These three are short, but decently informative. The blue-ribbon baby goes to The Making of The Jungle Book. This forty-five minute piece goes through every step of the project’s genesis, from the major tonal shift suggested by Disney during its development that took a darker, more faithful-to-Kipling version and pussified it, to the impact of Walt’s death. This is a good feature, and it really helps to explain why the end result seems to unfocused and inconsequential—almost every aspect of the flick was tinkered and changed in major ways.
I’d have liked to have seen that darker version. This one just didn’t do it for me, and I love Disney cartoons. No, really, I do. This one was boring and creepy and tired in its animation. The DVD has phenomenal picture and good sound, but it’s bipolar, features-wise. There’s some good, meaty stuff surrounded by silly games that just waste bitrate space.