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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Mowgli the Man Cub hugs Baloo the bear in Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book."

"Jungle Book" Blu-ray a light, music-filled adventure


Movies are rarely the same as the books upon which they are based. It makes sense, as time constraints and the mind's eye of the author and each reader is usually different each and every time.

When Rudyard Kipling put his collection of short stories together for "The Jungle Book" in the 1890s, it was more about the differences of Mowgli the Man Cub and how different man really is from the different animals of the wild.

The stories had a depth of meaning, a darker side that most of us never really knew if we didn't read the book and are only familiar with Walt Disney's take in the 1967 film.

This story isn't alone. Because of the successful way in which Walt Disney and his studio produced movies, we as a society tend to remember the Disney version rather than the original book, like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Bambi."

As far as "The Jungle Book" film goes, we get a light-hearted journey, built on the strength of the characters and a story that points out how man is more like the animals than what Kipling really had in mind.

The ending proves it as the Man Cub is returned to the village and Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther walk into the sunset together.

I had the chance to review the Blu-ray and DVD combo pack that goes on sale on Tuesday. It was great to revisit "The Bare Necessities" that Phil Harris as Baloo and Bruce Reitherman as Mowgli bring to the screen in the Diamond Edition.

This was the last film that Walt Disney was directly involved in with the day-to-day production, and because of the work of the main writers and artists, many animators are drawn to the film and the timeless elements that have stood the test of time.

The beautiful part of the new Blu-ray are the gems found in the bonus features. The "Bear-E-Oke Sing A Long" is perfect for the youngsters, and those of us returning to our youth. We get to sing and learn the lyrics to the film's songs, including the swinging "Be Like You."

A feature with a pair of teenagers offers a nice behind-the-scenes look at working with the animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, and an extra from the original DVD release introduces the audience to a rhino that got cut out of the film.

The Blu-ray features a conversation on the music and memories of the production of the film with composer Richard M. Sherman, artist Floyd Norman and Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller. The insightful talk -- complete with stories on how the film was going off the tracks and Walt Disney started the process over from scratch – took place before Diane Disney Miller's death in the latter part of 2013.

Many of the original sketches and animation cells are now a part of the Disney Family Museum at the original studios in California.

I enjoyed the story board presentation of a recently discovered draft for an alternate ending, as well as archived interviews with director Wolfgang Reitherman and some of the original artists. This was also the first Disney film to use better known celebrity voices, and it was great to see some of the original art techniques used in later films – like the movements of Shere Khan the tiger used in the "Lion King," or Mowgli walking repeatedly by the title character in "Aladdin."

Overall, it is a light, little adventure with a fun story at its core, just as Walt would have wanted.

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