Blu-ray Review: The Jungle Book (1967) -- Diamond Edition

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One of Walt Disney Studio's last great efforts (before the so-called Renaissance which was ushered in by The Little Mermaid roughly twenty years of uneven hit-or-miss releases later), The Jungle Book also has the bittersweet distinction of being the last project to be overseen by Walt Disney himself, who died before it was complete.

A creatively freewheeling endeavor, this animated adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic handled its episodic approach and musical structure like a cross between the classical full-length symphonic animated concert video that was Fantasia and the studio's more traditional Bambi inspired coming-of-age tales.

Narratively speaking, it's a light hero's journey that focuses less on the overall quest than the lessons learned along the way, courtesy of a handful of feisty, funny and unforgettable sidekicks. And while overall The Jungle Book's not quite as cohesive or fluid in its storytelling as some of the studio's other ventures, it nonetheless offers multiple scene-stealing opportunities for its musical-driven numbers to shine and lure us back into the otherwise slightly duller film's favor.

Likewise it's augmented by its powerful message about friendship and the timelier than ever theme to stand alongside those you love when faced with adversity (from cliques to bullies).

Unfortunately, our main character Mowgli the "man-cub" that was discovered as an abandoned baby and eventually raised by wolves is nowhere near as charismatic as the live action version of the character that the studio would bring to life three decades later, not to mention the animated hero of Disney's similarly themed Tarzan.

Despite this, from Louis Prima's scat-happy cry that he wants to be like you to the introduction of one of the studio's best sidekicks in the "Bare Necessities" singing lovable Baloo who seems to have paved the way for Pixar's Sulley in the Monsters Inc. films, the film has never looked or sounded as infectiously fun and vibrant as it does in Disney Blu-ray.

While the threat of the hypnotic deadly snake and man-eating tiger are perhaps a bit too intimidating for small children who will likewise lose patience with the film's meandering plotline the same way the two young boys I showed it to as a teenage babysitter did by throwing a remote control at my head in protest, mature adolescents and Disney enthusiasts alike will savor the film.

Filled with special features, the Blu-ray combo pack's greatest treasure is the feature film itself, which comes shining through in all its glory as a painstakingly crafted, lushly transferred animated trip to the Indian jungle.

Released a month before its straight-to-disc sequel debuts on Blu-ray as well, in the meantime, The Jungle Book boasts great potential for a double feature discussion to compare or contrast with either the live action production or one of Disney's similarly themed coming-of-age tales from Tarzan to Bambi.

Destined to provoke imaginative conversations that will likewise help your child learn to "read" films (like novels) for context clues much like other stellar studio adaptations of storytelling classics, The Jungle Book is sure to help provide them with the "Bare Necessities" of a well-rounded education right from your living room. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it also comes with the added bonus of karaoke to help keep things interesting.


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