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The Jungle Book:
Platinum Edition

If a Disney movie ever had a catchier song than "The Bare Necessities," you should argue with me on the forums. After re-watching The Jungle Book with my kids, it's been stuck in my head for at least three days.

But the Platinum Edition DVD taught me a couple of things about it; despite every other song in the film being written by Richard B. and Robert B. Sherman, Baloo's mindworm of a tune actually came from Frank Gilkyson, who had written an entire suite of songs for The Jungle Book. That version of the story was darker, moodier and probably a more full-fledged musical in the classic sense. Luckily, the Disney Studio seems to have archived everything but its cels, and the demo recordings made their way onto the first disc of this two-disc set.

Even the version of "The Bare Necessities" there takes a little adjustment. It's slower, creepier and sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, which should also give you a sense of that project headed by story man Bill Peet. On the second disc, a documentary about the development shows some of Peet's art and it does make you wonder.

The Jungle Book stands in Disney history as the last film Walt worked on, and this thorough treatment shows both the good and the bad of it. Granted, the Sherman Brothers came up with a couple of minor classics with "I Wan'na Be Like You" (covered here by The Jonas Brothers - who are NOT King Louie Prima) and "Trust In Me." Yet Walt also rejected turning the buzzards into the Beatles, forcing a lame barbershop number on characters that are so, so obviously still the Beatles in every other way. What would that have done to John Lennon's FBI file if he'd worked for Disney?

On the rest of that sequence, however, Walt was absolutely right. Commercials for this release have touted the discovery of the "lost" character, Rocky the Rhino. Voiced by Frank Fontaine, a now forgotten comedian best known as Crazy Guggenheim on a couple of Jackie Gleason's variety shows, Rocky doesn't fit for a variety of reasons. He's not just near-sighted and dim-witted, but he comes across as somewhat mean. Just for continuity's sake, he also doesn't fit in a jungle full of names like Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa, Shere Khan and …Rocky.

As is common with Platinum Editions, the producers here have assembled a great commentary track. Hosted by Bruce Reitherman, who played Mowgli, the track includes running commentary from Disney animator Andreas Deja, who was inspired to work at Disney by this film. Then Richard B. Sherman rolls in his piano to take apart some of his songsmithing. From the archives, a multitude of Disney legends speak out of the past about their work on this film, with an admiring Deja providing the segues.

So that's for the Disney geeks. You know that most of the people into this DVD will be the kids, who, as my daughter reminded me, have really only had The Jungle Book 2 DVD to watch.

The second disc provides interactive games and another installment of DisneyPedia, covering the wildlife of India.

Though not quite as comprehensive as a Discovery channel documentary, DisneyPedia entries do provide a welcome bit of education with the fun of the animation, and will probably teach parents a factoid or two, too.

It's a bit more than the bare necessities, but you can still forget about your worries and your strife for about 73 minutes.

Derek McCaw

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