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The tale of the man-cub Mogli and his buddy Baloo is back on a 2-disc special collector's edition DVD set. Walt's re-working of the Rudyard Kipling tale is perhaps the most beloved and cherished of the film versions made over the years.

Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book" isn't the best of the classic animated features he produced. The story is simplistic and the animation isn't as refined as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," for example. What this 1967 film has is spirited comedic mischief and genuine heart. The friendship between Mogli & Baloo is sweet. Add to that some wonderful songs like "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You," plus the voice talents of Phil Harris and Louis Prima, you've got yourself an imperfect yet enjoyable classic.

Animation, which had been the backbone of the studio, had taken a backseat to Walt's newest projects like Disneyland, his television series, and the soon-to-be completed Disney World (it was later named Walt Disney World by his brother Roy). Author Neal Gabler points out that Walt was onto bigger projects and his heart wasn't into animation as he had once been. Just take a look at "The Sword in the Stone" (1963) to witness his absence. The animation was streamlined and made more simple, although it still was of very high Disney quality. Crews were also trimmed. Though he wasn't animating the films, he was a genuine guide in helping make the films the best they could be. "The Jungle Book" was a return to Walt's storytelling qualities and gut instinct.

The tale is simple. Mogli (Bruce Reitherman) is left in the jungle and raised among the animals. As he grows, Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot) realizes that the young boy must go back to his own kind. The job of getting Mogli back to civilization is left up to a carefree bear named Baloo (Phil Harris). Chaos ensues in a bunch of very funny scenes where Kaa the snake (Sterling Holloway), King Louis (Louis Prima) and Shere Khan (George Sanders) all want the boy.

The strengths of "The Jungle Book" are many, despite it being thin on story or plot. This is one of those rare Disney features that emphasizes comedy over drama and incredible scenes. This is a fun and light film that is easy to watch and not really have to think about. You just simply enjoy the screwball comedy of Baloo, Kaa and King Louis.

The casting of this film is truly remarkable, though on paper, it might seem implausible. Phil Harris had never voiced an animated character, nor had Louis Prima. Both were known on the jazz circuit. Fine British actors Sebastian Cabot and George Saunders were seasoned veterans. Sterling Holloway was a classic Disney staple, having voiced the Cheshire Cat ("Alice in Wonderland") and at that point, "Winnie The Pooh." His voice was so familiar to audiences that animators groaned at utilizing his talents for Kaa. Bruce Reitherman, the director's son, had done the voice of Christopher Robin. When their voices came together on screen, the result was masterful. Harris and Prima are hilarious, very jazz sounding personalities. Cabot and Saunders add an air of dignity to the film. Holloway is very funny, and Reitherman's voice is perfectly suited for the role of Mogli.

The friendship of Mogli and Baloo gives the movie its bittersweet heart. I can't imagine anyone else voicing Baloo other than Phil Harris. His baritone voice and personality are apparent within watching his alter ego on-screen. Harris makes him totally believable, and you feel like he's that kind of uncle you look forward to seeing at family gatherings. He's out to have a good time, but he's also protective of you in times of danger. Baloo's relationship with Mogli is sincere and you're sad when the little man cub has to go back to civilization. But you know that Baloo has done the right thing.

The music of "The Jungle Book" might seem unusual at first. This is a movie that takes place in the jungle and there's Dixieland jazz music throughout! George Bruns fleshes out the score with drums and classical orchestral cues. The Sherman Bros. (and Tony Gilkyson on "The Bare Necessities") wrote the bouncy songs like "I Wanna Be Like You" and "Trust In Me." These work so well in the movie that it's hard to imagine it without them.

Walt passed away before his adapation of Rudyard Kipling's book was finished. His studio was still trying to cope with his absence, but the film was a huge hit for the studio. The animation staff that included Woolie Reitherman, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, and Eric Larson, clearly made a miniature masterpiece with "The Jungle Book." I'm sure Walt would've been proud of the end result.

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: Disney. All rights reserved.
 

DVD
Quick Glimpse

 


MOVIE

Funny and charming Walt Disney classic

TALENT
Director: Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman

Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, Bruce Reitherman, Verna Felton and Clint Howard

FEATURES

Excellent "Backstage
Disney" bonus features, games and music

RATING


DVD

Picture: Excellent*
Sound: Very Good

GEEK OUT
*Tweaked to look like today's clean and bright animation

The soundtrack contains the original mono mix

TECH SPECS
Aspect Ratio (1.75:1) (1.33:1 on certain bonus features)

Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix

DVD RELEASE DATE
October 2, 2007

 

 
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