The jungle is jumpin’!
Things have been a bit quiet around here during the last few days. I’m supposed to have quite a few discs of various formats on the way, whether bought, rented or for review, but there has been a nationwide postal strike, which has held things up. Various items are finally beginning to trickle in, and one of these was the R1 USA Platinum Edition of Disney’s The Jungle Book, which reached me yesterday.
This is a decidedly problematic release, and the reason for this stems from Disney’s decision to present the film in a matted widescreen ratio of 1.75:1. As I previously explained, although most commercial cinemas had become widescreen-only by the mid-1950s, Disney continued to animate their films in the Academy (1.33:1) ratio until as recently as the late 1970s (or early 80s, depending on who you listen to), and it is in this ratio that most of the studio’s films of the period were released on DVD until recently (with 1977’s The Rescuers, framed at 1.66:1, being the odd duck). These DVDs were open matte, revealing the entire Academy frame as drawn by the animators (again, there seems to be a single exception to this, with the 1.33:1-formatted The Fox and the Hound looking noticeably cropped on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD).
With the 2006 re-release of 1973’s Robin Hood, however, all this changed. Previously released in the Academy ratio, the new DVD used the unusual ratio of 1.75:1, matting the image at the top and bottom and as a result reducing the vertical dimensions. As seen in Ultimate Disney’s review, the altered framing made the artwork seem much tighter - some might say claustrophobic. Some people were up in arms about this, but I’ve always attempted to remain as agnostic as possible on the issue. After all, one of my main demands for home entertainment (whether that be DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray or anything else) presentations of films is that they reflect, as closely as possible, the original theatrical presentations. It’s why I hate the concept of reframing in the first place, and why I continually rail against audio remixes or George Lucas-style “tweaks”.
With The Jungle Book, I’m forced to come off the fence and categorically state that I don’t like the new framing. To put it plainly, it just looks wrong. Far from merely being tight, it looks cramped and claustrophobic, and the overall composition is all wrong. The tops of characters’ heads disappear at the top of the screen, while their feet frequently skirt just below the bottom of the frame in a way that I can’t believe was intended by the animators. A small amount of information is gained at the sides, but far more is lost. Compare the various images in this post and tell me which version looks the more balanced to you.
Of course, on top of this, there’s the whole issue of this being yet another overly soft, DVNR’d to buggery Disney restoration from DTS Digital Images, with highly suspect colour values (more research required in this area to determine whether DTS have pulled another Peter Pan), but I’ll save that for the eventual review. At least, to end this post on a high note, the original mono audio track sounds excellent, and the bonus features are very informative - a big step up from those provided for Pan.
PS. For another recent example of reframing, check out what Robert Rodriguez has done to Planet Terror for its DVD release.