Saturday, 16 April 2016

BBC's The Real Jungle Book Animals

The formal relationship between Disney and the BBC yielded the first of the theatrical nature documentaries released under the Disneynature imprint. Titled Earth, it was an abridgment of the BBC's stunning, award-winning series Planet Earth. Even without Disney's formal participation, the BBC has found a way to carry on a symbiotic relationship. Timed to coincide with the new "live-action" Jungle Book feature film, the BBC has repackaged their nature documentaries for home video as The Real Jungle Book Animals.

The eponymous documentary, advertised on the package as a journey into the heart of Rudyard Kipling's wild India, is actually the first episode of the 1997 series Land of the Tiger (and released as Wild India). This episode introduces the six-part series and focuses itself on the regions of Kanha National Park. This park and its denizens inspired Kipling's stories, as series host and Indian naturalist Valmik Thapar informs us. The trials of a mother tigress is the main plot, but time is taken to show the lives of sloth bears (on which Baloo is based), leopards (the black variety being Bagheera's inspiration), langur monkeys, dholes, jackals, and wolves, cobras, peacocks, elephants, and spotted deer. Not only does it show the ecology of these beautiful creatures, but the unique and reverent relationship Indian people have forged with them.

The act of repackaging an entirely different documentary as a The Real Jungle Book Animals is a bit of a bait-and-switch, but it's not an unpleasant one. It is still a fascinating episode. Given that Land of the Tiger has never been released in its entirety on digital home video platforms, they could have done well to put all six episodes on the disk. Its only home video release has been on VHS, and they clearly used the same masters for this copy.

For a faux-Kipling documentary, one might have hoped they would find another suitable bonus feature... Say, a biography of Kipling or some such thing. The BBC is, in fact, currently airing a documentary called Kipling's Indian Adventure, presumably to tie-in with the film. Not so with this release, unfortunately. The bonus is another documentary advertised as "Himalayas: Home of the Brown Bear" but which is, in fact, the "Tibet" episode of BBC's Wild China series.

While an odd choice for a disk entitled The Real Jungle Book Animals, this exploration of the Tibetan plateau, its wildlife, and the spirituality of the indomitable Tibetan people unintentionally fills in the background to Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest attraction. The disk ends up being a double-whammy of unofficial Disney documentaries. For those piqued by the new Jungle Book remake and the best ride at Animal Kingdom, The Real Jungle Book Animals is worth picking up at an affordable price.

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