Disney Diamond Edition Blu-rays are among the most popular releases in the market for several reasons. First, the Diamond Editions are the “classic” Disney movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan. Also, Disney usually takes the time to restore the Diamond Editions for their Blu-ray release as they are the most beloved films unlike some of the less popular feature films like Robin Hood or The Aristocats. The Diamond Edition films have become the “must-have” Blu-rays for Disney Animation fans in the same light as the Platinum Editions on DVD. For the most part, the Diamond releases have been in generally the same release order as the Platinums, with a few exceptions including the absence of Aladdin. However, the last film Walt Disney oversaw and produced – The Jungle Book has finally been released in a satisfactory Blu-ray Diamond Edition.
The Jungle Book is the 19th animated feature film by Disney and the last film that Walt Disney had his hand in. The film was originally set to be a faithful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but Walt wasn’t pleased with the tone of the film and brought on a new writer, Larry Clemmons, to start over from scratch. Supposedly, Walt asked Clemmons and the animators if they had read The Jungle Book before and after they responded no, Walt went on to tell his version of The Jungle Book that he wished to see before giving them the source material. Walt’s story focuses on Mowgli, the “man boy” who was discovered in the jungles as a baby orphan by Bagheera, a black panther. Bagheera placed Mowgli in the care of a wolves who raised him until he reached the age of ten. When the wolves discover that Shere Khan, a fearsome Bengal tiger who hates man, has returned to the jungle, Bagheera volunteers to take Mowgli back to the “man village” where he can live safely. Along the way Mowgli encounters Kaa – a hypnotizing, hungry python, King Louie, the “king of swingers” orangutan, and more jungle characters before facing off with Shere Khan. Walt Disney didn’t live to see the finished version of The Jungle Book, but his spirit can be seen in the film and was a financial and critical success because of it.
Diamond Edition can almost always be seen as a promise that the film has been restored and remastered and will never look better than its current state on Blu-ray. However, this is one of the rare occasions that the Diamond Edition wavers. The Jungle Book features great picture quality to those animation fans who prefer to watch a movie and see it as if the animation cels had just been photographed in the perfect condition leaving no grain or defects. For those who prefer to watch a film and see the grain and feel like you are getting the theater experience, then this release will be a let-down. Regardless, only the true Blu-ray and Disney history buffs should have an issue with the picture and the average viewer will claim that it is the best The Jungle Book has ever looked. The more glaring issue is the aspect ratio. The Jungle Book is presented in a 1.75:1 widescreen aspect ratio as it was on the Platinum Edition DVD. The 1.75:1 aspect ratio is the original theatrical aspect ratio, but it was matted from a 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio (along with most of the Disney films released from 1961 to 1981) meaning that the top and bottom of the screen have been cropped. On the one hand, it means that we are seeing the original, intended way, but on the other hand it looks awkward when heads and feet start to disappear off-screen. The audio doesn’t make up for the video issues, but a DTS-HD 7.1 mix is included along with the original mono mix and shouldn’t leave anyone disappointed.
The special features included in The Jungle Book will be more than satisfactory for some and lacking for others. Once again, Disney has included karaoke sing-alongs – this time named “Bear-E-Oke” – that can be accessed every time you hit pause during the movie or in the bonus features section. They are creative pieces and probably took a lot of time and effort to produce, but add little value besides distracting children when you have to pause the film. The highlights include the continuation of the @DisneyAnimation series, this time taking a look at the Spark Showcase – meetings in which members of the studio come together to pitch new ideas for “creative” projects ranging from new animation techniques to new CG technology, and a conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Floyd Norman and the late Diane Disney Miller at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco in which they discuss the making of The Jungle Book and offer insight on Walt’s input on the final film he produced. An alternate ending that was newly created is included, as well as standard definition classic bonus features from the Platinum Edition DVD.
Here’s a list of bonus features on the disc:
» NEW: Music, Memories & Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman- A special meeting in which Richard Sherman discusses the story and song development of The Jungle Book as well as the last words he ever heard from Walt, Diane Disney Miller discusses what it was like to hear all of the stories that Walt would tell her which were actually stories he wanted to put into production and Floyd Norman discusses what it was like to be a key animator on The Jungle Book.
» NEW: Alternate Ending – Mowgli and the Hunter – Raymond Persi, a storyboard artist at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, produced an alternate ending with storyboards based on one of the original scripts in which Mowgli returns to the jungle and defeats Shere Khan resembling the original Rudyard Kipling tale.
» NEW: I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Disney Channel stars Blake Michael and G Hannelius from Dog with a Blog head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to learn about the animals and the environment in which they live in as well as how they are cared for.
» NEW: Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along – Typography videos for the songs “Trust In Me,” “I Wan’na Be Like You,” “The Bare Necessities,” “Colonel Hathi’s March” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”
» NEW: @DisneyAnimation: Sparking Creativity – A look behind the scenes at Walt Disney Studios including the Spark Showcase in which animators developed an animation test that led to the Academy Award-winning short Paperman and designers developed tools to help in the production of Frozen.
» Backstage Disney – The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book, Disney’s Kipling: Walt’s Magic Touch on a Literary Classic, The Lure of ‘The Jungle Book,‘ Mowgli’s Return to the Wild, Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
» Deleted Scene: The Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
» Disneypedia: Junglemania!
» Music & More – Disney Song Selection, “I Wanna Be Like You” Music Video Performed by Jonas Brothers
» Audio Commentary with Composer Richard M. Sherman, Animator Andreas Deja and the Voice of Mowgli Bruce Reitherman plus Guest Archival Appearances
The Jungle Book has never been my favorite Disney movie, but I have always respected it for what it is. No matter how you look at it, The Jungle Book is the last film that Walt Disney truly worked on and it deserves “classic” status for that reason alone. However, Walt was also around for The Sword in the Stone, which released four years earlier in 1963 and was financially successful, but not so much critically. The film is very entertaining and a large part of that can be attributed to the cast, which is comprised of celebrities like Phil Harris (Baloo) and Louis Prima (King Louie). Although it seems like common nature for celebrities to be in an animated feature now, when The Jungle Book premiered, it was the first time that Disney ever employed actual celebrities to voice his characters. The music and songs have held up over the years. “The Bare Necessities” (written by Terry Gilkyson for the original, darker draft of the film) still remains popular to this day as well as the other songs written by the Sherman Brothers. George Bruns composed the score, which sounds extremely similar to the themes of Disneyland’s Adventureland as well as Pirates of the Caribbean and more. The Jungle Book is an important film that spawned a live-action remake, an animated sequel and the animated spinoff television series TaleSpin and Disney’s Jungle Cubs. Personally, I would never hesitate to add The Jungle Book to my Blu-ray collection due to the importance of the film, but the 1.75:1 aspect ration on this release really hurts the presentation of the movie. The @DisneyAnimation and Diane Disney Miller, Richard Sherman, Floyd Norman Conversation special features ended up being my favorite part of the Diamond Edition release and worth the price alone, but if you’re looking for the best presentation of The Jungle Book then you have to track down the 1999 DVD release that features the 1.33:1 aspect ratio version of the film. The 1999 DVD version also won’t include the TERRIBLE Disney’s Animal Kingdom special feature that only serves as a 10-minute commercial, which shows off what guests never get to experience at the theme park.