The Jungle Book (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD) Review: It's Wild Fun!
Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book movie has arrived on the small screen at last and altogether, it’s a swingin’ deal.
Viewing The Jungle Book on DVD was actually my first time seeing the movie. I won’t go too deeply into my thoughts on the film itself, since Dave Giggs already covered it in his detailed, eloquent review, but I will say it’s the best live-action adaptation of an animated Disney movie I’ve seen so far.
The visuals were detailed and great. While slightly darker than the original, the story still had real heart and optimism. Neel Sethti, who played Mowgli, was charming in the lead role and the voice acting was generally excellent. There was clear reverence for the source material, but it wasn’t an exact copy. It instead expanded on it in an organic way and had a slightly different take on things.
Things like Mowgli’s relationship with his wolf mother were developed more and in my opinion, the movie had a better ending than the original cartoon version. As a child I was always completely flummoxed why Mowgli would abandon his home, family and everything he’d ever known for a hot girl he just laid eyes on for two seconds and didn’t even know anything about. It also had an “it’s always better to be with your own kind no matter what” message that doesn’t jive well with modern sensibilities. Fortunately, the movie avoids that, and for that alone I have to give it good marks.
Remakes are worth it if they prune the unnecessary parts of the original and adapt to modern audiences in a real way and this move did that. There were some awkward parts, like the scene with King Louie which, while it toned down the racial implications some saw in the original, just didn’t have the same spark without all the dancing and exuberance. But overall, it’s worth seeing.
And The Jungle Book DVD combo pack does justice to the lush CGI spectacle of the movie, providing sharp image and audio. The special features aren’t numerous, but they’re detailed enough to be well worth it. Like is usual for DVD/Blu-ray combos, only the Blu-Ray contained all the special features. But for those without a Blu-ray player, there’s a code you can put in to get access to a digital version of all the content through a website. What the instructions don’t tell you is you need to link the website to your Itunes account to see the special features, so keep that in mind.
There are three special features. "The Jungle Book Reimagined" is by far the longest, clocking nearly 35 minutes and it’s really worth a look for those that enjoyed the movie. It’s like several featurettes at once. It starts with director Jon Favreau talking with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato about how he got involved in the project and what he had to work out to get things started. He talks about darker earlier drafts of the story, harkens back to the process Walt Disney went through in making the original and discusses what he chose to change and keep the same for the new feature. It goes on to feature several more members of the movies cast and crew as they discuss everything from visual effects to voice acting to the musical score to the weird puppets they used as CGI subsitutes.
Lots of gorgeous concept art is shown, along with storyboards, the behind-the-scenes making of the visual effects, footage of the actors working and talking and contrasting clips of the 1967 animated original and the 2016 version. There’s actually new information real insight into the creative decisions made in regards to the movie, which is the real thing you look for in any bonus feature spread. The featurette provides lots of fun trivia, like the fact they used the same book from the opening of the 1967 animated version for this movie or how they worked to make the opening mirror some elements of Bambi or how they bought in the original composer of King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You” for the remake version. It also features a touching look at the director’s fond rememberances of Gary Shandling, a voice actor who died soon after making the movie.
Mostly, you can feel the passion the director and the people involved with the project had, and their enthusiasm is both heartwarming and infectious. You really get a sense of the amount of effort and love that was put into the movie. It’s a really well-done featurette.
Another bonus feature was “King Louie’s Temple: Layer By Layer”, which is a very fast look at the process of making the King Louie’s musical number. It’s short and sweet, cycling through composer Phil Sherman’s involvement, the voice acting and singing, the storyboards for the scene, the slightly unsettling rough animation and the final product. It truly does show all the “layers of a scene”.
The final feature is “I am Mowgli”, which focuses on Neel Sethi, the child who plays Mowgli. It’s a charming little feature, mostly because Neel himself is so charming and adorable. We hear how he got the part, see his audition footage and see him at work. We also get a good peak into his personality and it’s clear that this kid is a lot of fun. “I was practically naked, I was just wearing a diaper…but everyone calls it a loincloth. What? Why are you guys laughing? It’s a diaper!” He says at one point. Both the actor and the crew’s affection for him all felt very authentic.
Of course, there’s also Jon Favreau’s audio commentary. While it’s a shame he’s the only commentator, he’s clearly comfortable talking and is brimming with information and trivia about every scene, so the track is interesting to listen to anyway.
In the end, this DVD combo is a good purchase. It contains a solid, visually impressive movie and has bonus features that are actually informative and enjoyable to watch. So if you’re a fan and you have the cash, go for it and catch some jungle fever!