If there is some kind of contest on for the Walt Disney movie which least resembles the supposed source material, â€œThe Jungle Bookâ€ must be the clear winner. It bears only the lightest and most coincidental resemblance to Rudyard Kiplingsâ€™s cycle of stories about a little boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. Only the setting and the names of characters are preserved. That said, â€œThe Jungle Bookâ€ deserves to be considered on itsâ€™ own terms as a classically animated Disney feature, the very last to have been blessed by the hand of Walt himself. The plot is as thin as a wisp; the journey of the boy Mowgli to the village of his own kind, interspersed with some good-natured musical numbers, and helped or hindered by a variety of good natured animals, and not terribly threatening villains.
It is a curious jumble, to watch with eyes accustomed to more recent animated features like â€œShrekâ€ and â€œToy Storyâ€. Without exception the backgrounds are beautifully rendered, densely detailed, almost painterly. The animal characters were fully-fleshed, and with the exception of Kaaa, the python, seemed to move and flex like their real counterparts; especially King Louie the baboon, Bagheera the panther and Sher Khan the tiger. The last two seemed especially slinky; it would be nice to know if the artists responsible for their rendering had cats. King Louie is hilarious, and so are the four vultures â€“ very obviously patterned after the Beatles. In contrast, the rendering of Mowgli the boy and ostensible hero, looks like a bland and sketchily rendered cut-out. It almost seems as if the artists were far more interested in the animals.
The extra features included are generous; this is veritably the platinum standard for a DVD classic. It is on two discs; necessary to contain the complete movie and commentary. There is also a nearly hour-long feature about how the movie was developed, along with several shorter features. One of the bonus features is a look at a character â€œRocky the Rhinoâ€ who was eventually omitted â€“ rather a pity actually, since Rocky would have been voiced by the man who did â€œCrazy Guggenheimâ€. There are also complete recordings of songs which were dropped from the final version, and probably a good call. There are also generous picture galleries of the characters and of the background art, which was purely my favorite, and a series of games. The actual movie itself takes barely more than an hour itself, but the extras will keep an audience amused for days.
This DVD set will be available at Amazon.com and other retail outlets after October 2.
Sgt. Mom is a freelance writer who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her most recent book, â€œTo Truckeeâ€™s Trailâ€ is available here. More about her books is at her website, www.celiahayes.com