The feature itself is a spandy-new digital restoration from high-res scans of the original negative -- nearly 337,000 frames scanned for your enhanced viewing pleasure. For the first time, the film is on DVD in its original 1:75:1 aspect ratio, and it looks and sounds great. The vivid jungle color palette practically pops off the screen.
You know the basic storyline: Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman, who was also the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree), the "man-cub," is rescued and raised by wolves and grows up in the jungle, where he mysteriously acquires a stylish red loincloth and a cute little bobbed haircut. Mowgli's best friend is a bear named Baloo (perfectly voiced by 1940s bandleader Phil Harris, lending his distinctive dulcet tones to bring Baloo to life).
Sebastian Cabot, whose voice can also be heard as the narrator on Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh (although he'll always be Mr. French from Family Affair to me), voices Bagheera, the panther, who protects young Mowgli from becoming an entree for the tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) or the python, Kaa (Sterling Holloway, who also brought Pooh Bear to life for Disney -- are we noticing a trend here? Disney tended to use the same voice actors a lot -- a decade earlier, Eleanor Audley voiced both the evil stepmother in Cinderella and Malificent in Sleeping Beauty.)
Bagheera wants Baloo to return Mowgli to the humans; Baloo doesn't want to leave his friends, and Mowgli is none to certain he wants to leave the jungle for the world of men. Lots of raucous song and dance numbers ensue, including the memorable "Bare Necessities," the elephant's march, and the whole scene with King Louie and the monkeys, which often results in my brood swinging from the rafters as they reenact the fun.
The second DVD is packed with features, starting with a 46-minute long "making of " featurette that gives all the scoop on the difference between the first version of the film storyboarded by longtime Disney animator Bill Peet, who envisioned a darker adaptation, and Walt Disney's final version, which has a lighter tone and more personified characters. Peet, we learn, left the studio over his conflict with Disney about the direction the film should take, and his original outline and storyboards are shown in the special features. There's also some pretty fascinating stuff in there on the process of taking Rudyard Kipling's non-linear collection of stories and creating a cohesive, visually appealing story out of them.
Also revealed in the features, we get to meet a character who was storyboarded into the film, but ultimately cut -- Rodney Rhino, a near-sighted bumbler who Mowgli was supposed to meet in the film's vulture scene. We also get to hear a lot about the process of developing the film's characters, and are introduced to Frank and Ollie (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) two of the film's lead animators, who developed some of the main characters for the film. There are also some Jungle Book-themed games for the kids to play when they're bored watching the film for the 89,000th time. Other treats, including deleted scenes and songs and a whole gallery of pictures, are packed onto the discs as well.
Whether you're a Disney collector who buys every release before it goes "back into the vaults" or a parent looking for the next DVD to add to Junior's burgeoning collection, the platinum editions of the Disney films are well worth adding to your DVD shelf. WIth all these special features to work through, The Jungle Book Platinum Edition will the kids (both young and old) busy and entralled, and the whole family will be singing "Bare Necessities" for weeks.