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‘Meet Mowgli the man cub. Baloo thinks he’ll make a darn good bear. Shere Khan thinks he’ll make a darn good meal.’ Ba-dum-tish.
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It had been four years since Disney’s previous animated feature, The Sword in the Stone, was released, and significant events had taken place in those four years, manifesting the highest and lowest points in Disney’s history. Mary Poppins had been an enormous hit both commercially and critically in 1964, but a mere two years later, in 1966, Walt Disney passed away quite suddenly. Doctors had found a tumour on his lung in November that year and he died a month later, ten days after his 65th birthday. The studio was shocked and devastated by the loss of Walt, and the future of Disney was strongly questioned.
The Jungle Book consequently is Disney’s final animated feature length film in which Walt had significant personal involvement (he had approved The Aristocats and had been involved in early development for The Rescuers). Walt had become very detached from animated features in recent years, in particular from One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone. Disappointed in those films, Walt was determined to get more directly involved with animated features again, and ‘mark his territory’ so to speak. Bill Peet had suggested Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book to Walt, and Peet wrote a script that was a dark, story-heavy treatment of the source material. Walt was not happy with it, and after a very heated argument, Peet left the studio – he had been at the studio since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs so it was a massive deal, especially since he had been such a prominent figure in the company. The script was passed on to Larry Clemmons, and Walt told the production team to ignore Kipling’s books because they were going to create their own version of the story. Sounds like typical Walt really!
I did it myyyyyyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay
For Walt, the aim was to create rich, entertaining characters that would drive the story, which meant keeping the story simple, focusing primarily on Mowgli’s journey back to the Man Village. Although Walt was a major entrepreneur (Disney likely would not be here had he not been), but at heart he was a story man, excellent at knowing what needs to stay and what needs to go so the film does not meander; and consequently we have one of Disney’s paciest films in the canon.
Before we dive into Original Trailer Time, The Jungle Book is a special one for us because back in early 2009, the two of us were cast in a play adaptation of The Jungle Book, in which we played Bagheera and Shere Khan. I Wanna Be Like You kept slipping into our rehearsals, much to the frustration of the director. Ironically as much as Walt wanted his production team to forget about the book, our director wanted us to forget about the film … a near impossible task. Alongside being in the play, we have a very fond memory of re-watching The Jungle Book for the first time since childhood with some of the cast in our halls of residence. It rekindled our love for the film; especially since at that point, Disney (from our perspective at the time) had not been doing anything particularly note-worthy for years.
(Special Note from Both: Disney in the 2000s … shudder!)
NOW! ORIGINAL TRAILER TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME!
- The first thing we hear is Louis Prima scatting out of context, which if you didn’t know anything about the film would be really confusing – like the rantings of a madman!
- Oh scrolling text again, apparently the jungle will be jumpin’ SOON (seriously the ‘SOON’ looms menacingly towards the camera lens), and we don’t feel any more secure about this while supported by madman scatting as we see looming eerie shots of the jungle … no wait! We have a NEW Voiceover Man!
- New Voiceover Man sounds much more upbeat and chipper than Old Voiceover Man, but akin to his predecessor, he indulges in awkward phrasing
- ‘The triumph in the art of animation is here!’ followed immediately by the sound of Baloo’s ‘Doo-bee’ entrance … it’s as if they’re mocking themselves, or dramatically showing that Disney is taking quite a new turn
- ‘A new departure in contemporary entertainment’ … do you know what you even mean New Voiceover Man? That makes no sense …
- ‘And his encounters with human nature in the jungle’ … when does Mowgli encounter human nature in the jungle??? Have you SEEN the movie?
- New Voiceover Man doesn’t know the definition of ‘treacherous’ at all …
- Baloo and Bagheera are ‘comedy immortals’
- The terrifying moment when ‘Who needs people?’ slowly zooms in, as if they are truly trying to make you question yourself
- As usual not so coherently edited. They have very clumsily yet hilariously spliced Baloo’s fight with Shere Khan and Bagheera going ‘Oh no … Baloo’ to make it look as though Bagheera is showing disapproval towards the fight
- ‘In thirty years there has never been a more entertaining achievement in the art of animation’ … OK New Voiceover Man you might have said something correct …
Much like Pinocchio and The Sword in the Stone the story for the protagonist is a bildungsroman, and fittingly Mowgli shares many of the same character traits as both Pinocchio and Wart (and the same hairstyle as Wart …). Much like Pinocchio, Mowgli is rather naïve and has a tendency to make unwise decisions that lead him into trouble (standing up to Shere Khan being a HUGE one), but he has more gumption and feistiness than both Pinocchio and Wart put together. He acts like a normal kid; he gets angry, he can be difficult, he’s stubborn, he’s reckless, he thinks he can take care of himself, and yet he is also affectionate, giggly and playful. He’s a lonely kid who latches on to anyone who shows him attention or affection, and from his point-of-view, he continues to be rejected or abandoned, meaning that he progressively finds it difficult to trust anyone.
This image perfectly encapsulates Mowgli’s journey
The character is certainly an improvement on Wart, which is partly due to the voice acting not being jarring. The original voice actor, David Alan Bailey’s voice broke after three years in production, and thankfully they fully re-cast him with one actor, rather than using a mish-mash of three different voice actors.
Yes we’re looking at you
Bruce Reitherman (a.ka. Director Wolfgang Reitherman’s more talented son) sounds incredibly natural in the role, not at all precocious, and basically like a normal kid. His accent does not sound out of place amidst the rest of the cast (it is not as broad as his brothers’ voice work in The Sword in the Stone). Although Mowgli does not have an Indian accent (neither do any of the characters), he marks a milestone as he is the first non-white protagonist in a full length Disney animated feature film so far.
Unlike Wart, Mowgli goes through experiences that actually factor into his character arc: he encounters a number of different animals, and attempts to fit in with each different species – trying to find his place – but inevitably he ends up leaving the jungle to be with his own species. The need to fit in is a very identifiable theme. Mowgli knows that he is a human, but having grown up removed from any human contact he presumably does not truly know what it means to be one.
(Special Note from Melissa: Curiously I wondered while watching how Mowgli learned to walk on two feet if he was raised by wolves …)
Therefore whenever he encounters something different his immediate impulse is to try to adapt. He tries to fit in as a wolf, a panther, an elephant, a bear, a monkey and a vulture, but being a human he never quite finds his place.
Hearing the strains of a human girl’s voice, he instinctively is drawn to not only her, but the Man Village, and he goes of his own will, suddenly finding where he belongs without question. Overall, he is a noticeable improvement on male child protagonists who have preceded him. He is likeable without being irritating, he seems like a regular child full of typical child-like giggles and/or mood-swings, and you want him to find his place in the world in the end.
Somewhat unrelated but …
We majorly get the giggles watching Mowgli fall every time
For the first time in the animated canon, the opening credits specifically state who is playing each character. And it seems fitting for this film, because the voice cast includes quite a few of the studio’s long-standing favourites: Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, Sebastian Cabot, J. Pat O’Malley, as well as Phil Harris as Baloo, Louis Prima as King Louie, and George Sanders as Shere Kahn (but he’ll have to wait until the next section …). It could well be one of the finest ensemble voice casts the studio had ever assembled, encapsulating elements of the studio’s past and present (and future, as Phil Harris would go on to appear in both The Aristocats and Robin Hood). Consequently The Jungle Book boasts one of the most memorable casts of characters in any Disney film, and that is largely due to the voice acting.
Sebastian Cabot is the first voice that we hear as he narrates the opening scene. Cabot brings an understated dignity to the character of Bagheera – the more serious of Mowgli’s two surrogate parents. If at any point, it feels like the film has veered off too far from the tone of Kipling’s books, Cabot’s voice brings it back to that tone. He cares a great deal for Mowgli, but has to be the strict disciplinarian – which is inevitably not always well received. His character is quite different from the character in Kipling’s novels, in which he is painted as a heroic figure with a troubled past. In a way, in Kipling’s telling he is as feared as Shere Khan; Kipling describes it beautifully:
‘Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down’
However, although Bagheera’s ‘wildness’ was toned down and he instead plays the role of a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ type in the film, he is still a very full character with a lot of heart. We must say though, Bagheera could easily compete with Jiminy Cricket for the amount of times that he leaves the defenceless protagonist on his own, usually in a huff.
‘This time you’re on your own. ALONE!’
‘He’s in trouble? I never should have left him alone!’
One of the delightful elements about Bagheera’s character is the comic potential in showing a dignified character in moments in which he lacks dignity or composure, which does happen several times throughout the film. Besides at the end, he gets to be the ‘easy-going’ one as he happily lets Mowgli follow the girl, and encourages him, while anxious Baloo becomes the uptight parent that wants him to come back.
Plus he is responsible for the best visual gag in the whole film
Baloo is an excellent foil for Bagheera, as he is ‘the fun one’ with whom Mowgli can joke around. In a way, it is as if Baloo and Bagheera have somewhat swapped personalities from their book counterparts into their film counterparts, as Baloo was the stern, wise old teacher figure in Kipling’s story. In the film, he’s the laid-back free-spirited type, who just wants to enjoy an easy life. Phil Harris does this brilliantly, with such a warm, likeable and charismatic voice. It’s hard to imagine this character with a different voice actor (which will happen in later years …). A friend of his, Walt suggested Harris for the role, and many in the production team initially thought that the idea was mad, because Harris was a jazz performer and comedian, which from their POV seemed so far from typical Disney casting. In the end, they never regretted the choice, and Harris’s voice contributed to great developments in the production. It opened new doors for who could be cast in an animated film – the idea that big television and/or film personalities and celebrities could be cast as animated characters and not be a distraction.
(Special Note from Melissa: But that does not mean that it cannot ever be a distraction, which some filmmakers fail to notice …)
When Baloo first enters, the film takes such a turn. There had been such threat and the mood, while amusing at times, was still fairly dark. When Mowgli wanders off on his own, the underscore becomes progressively eerier, trying to lead us into thinking that another predator is about to emerge, and essentially our socks are blown off as you hear the first ‘Doo-bee-doo-bee’ from Baloo off-camera and he blissfully wanders on, as if he has entered from another film – a force of nature has arrived!
Allegedly Walt did this exact walk in a story meeting to show how Baloo should enter!
While Bagheera is stubborn and set in his ways, Baloo has quite a journey to go through as a character, needing to learn about responsibility and making difficult decisions. He wants to keep Mowgli in the jungle, but because of the threat posed by Shere Kahn, knows that Mowgli has to go to somewhere he will be safe. The moment when he has to tell Mowgli the hard truth, the character acting is excellent, demonstrating subtle nervous ticks as he plucks up the courage to tell him. He later puts his life at risk, throwing himself into a fight with Shere Kahn to allow Mowgli to get to safety – and very nearly dies in the attempt. This results in a fake-out death scene that works, because it is handled with humour. The audience is aware that Baloo is alive way before Mowgli and Bagheera, allowing Bagheera to eulogise for ages, while Baloo is moved by his words.
The relationship between Mowgli and Baloo is one of the loveliest that we have seen so far in the canon, and it really is the heart and centre of the story.
Likewise the relationship between Baloo and Bagheera works enduringly well as they play the part of a co-parenting team to Mowgli, and behave comically like a bickering couple. They are polar opposite friends who don’t always get on, which is entertaining …
(Special Note from Melissa: Those ‘comedy immortals’ could have their own sitcom)
… but do unite when the time is right. The ending between the two of them is a favourite of ours, as they dance off into the sunset, with Bagheera finally loosening up and ‘getting with the beat’.
In a film full of so many memorable characters, it is a shame that the wolves are a bit of a non-entity as their involvement is so brief, especially considering that they raised Mowgli from an infant to a boy of ten. Rama, Mowgli’s wolf-father only gets a few lines (voiced by Ben Wright, the same actor who voiced Roger in Dalmatians) and the wolf-mother has none at all, which is a huge pity as the wolf-mother in Kipling’s novel is hard, feisty and puts Shere Khan in his place as she fights fiercely to keep Mowgli safe. There is not even a goodbye scene for Mowgli and the wolves; Bagheera just takes him, and Mowgli did not even know he was leaving, and does not seem particularly sad that he has been taken away from his ‘family’.
Colonel Hathi is a very enjoyable character, embodying the stuffy, old-fashioned British military-type (previously seen in the Colonel character in One Hundred and One Dalmatians). The difference in this iteration of what is essentially the same character is the dynamic he shares with his patrol – including his wife – who are all rather weary with his long-winded, self-serving speeches about his glory years. We had seen similar scenes in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but here there is a lot more humour and coherence. Apparently the production team would gather around the table to give ideas for lines, based on their own experiences in the military, resulting in many laugh-out-loud lines.
Colonel Hathi is voiced by J. Pat O’Malley, and his no-nonsense, sharp-tongued wife, Winifred (who one-ups him all the way), by Verna Felton (her last role in a Disney feature-length film; she died the day before Walt), and it is wonderful to see two veteran voice actors bringing so much life into this scene. We also see Clint Howard in an early role playing their child: a successor to Thumper, he is annoying but harmless and cute enough.
(Special Note from Both: On previous viewings of this film we weren’t as keen on the elephant’s scenes, thinking that two scenes were a touch excessive, but this time around we realised just how funny they are)
Another veteran – making his first feature-film appearance since Alice in Wonderland – is Sterling Holloway, playing the part of Kaa. There is a sense of menace to the character, punctuated by his desire to eat Mowgli, as well as his powers of hypnosis, but Kaa is also very amusing (interjections such as “hold still, please” during Trust In Me, are a really nice little touch) and thanks to Holloway’s dry-throated, raspy hissing and lisping vocal performance, Kaa can come across as legitimately sympathetic. You can really feel the character’s pain when Shere Khan squeezes his throat. They seemed to demonstrate a distinction between Kaa the character and Kaa the predator, as for a moment he feels sorry for Mowgli, until his predator instincts kick in, perhaps showing that he could be a good-hearted character if it were not for his primal urges.
I’m not bad I’m just drawn that way
A brief moment of harmony for Mowgli and Baloo following the song The Bare Necessities is interrupted by the arrival of the Bandar-log monkeys, who abduct Mowgli and pelt Baloo with fruit (the cartoon-like sound-effects for this are HILARIOUS) before nearly killing him by tripping him up so that he falls down a cliff.
Seriously, Baloo must have a titanium skull
The monkeys are quite annoying, with most of their dialogue being comprised of puns – not very good ones either.
(Special Note from David: I would have liked to have seen Baloo land a few punches on them)
Fortunately, their involvement in the film leads to the arrival of King Louis – who is awesome. The character was designed and written around Louis Prima, whose lively and energetic performance in the studio provided the basis for a lot of the character animation. The fact that Prima was having a great time performing the role is evident, as his scene is a lot of fun, and really works as a stand-alone sequence. Much like Kaa, King Louis has the potential to be a villain (he has Mowgli abducted, and his reasons for this are so that he can learn how to make fire) but his nefarious tendencies are masked by one hell of a catchy number; so catchy that even Baloo can’t resist getting caught up in it.
Now in terms of the ‘racism’ issue … right … for us we do not see King Louie and the Bandar-Log as racist. We understand that there is an argument for it, especially considering that around the production and release of The Jungle Book, the Civil Rights Movement was still in motion. However it is a loose argument; if anything is racist, our minds rather jump to this:
Or what is about to come:
If anyone feels that way, including several cultural scholars who have written essays on the subject, then that is how they feel, but it can also miss the point. Interpret it how you will but it is irritating that a lot of people jump to this conclusion immediately; making the assumption itself that the monkeys are meant to represent black people is strangely more offensive. Louis Prima and his band were white, the monkeys do not sound like they are imitating any particular ethnicity, King Louie is truly a reflection of Prima’s energetic jazz personality, the use of jazz and swing is in relation to the monkeys being literal swingers and King Louie is the king of the swingers, and monkeys are a close relative to humans so … it makes sense that they want to be like man, which is also the case in Kipling’s books.
OK … we have another bone to pick. The generalisation that many viewers make is that all four of the vultures are based on The Beatles, after all, they all have MopTop hair and Liverpudlian accents …
Apart from the ones that don’t, THREE of them
Yes one of them very clearly does have a Liverpudlian accent and a MopTop hair-cut, and thus is based on a Beatle.
But the rest … not so much. They are Brits, but that’s about it. The blonde one is Northern, but not Liverpudlian, the bald one is J. Pat-style Cockney, while the other is … well Southern English at least. Yes they were originally based on The Beatles, and were planned to be voiced by them, but we’ll get to that in the Music section …
Anyway onto the characters themselves, it is great to see vultures in a Disney feature that are not necessarily ‘evil’:
Like these beasts of horror
They are a pack of outsiders who take Mowgli in when they discover how alone he is, and try to cheer him up, saying that they understand how he feels, being creatures that no one would (understandably) want to be around. They are loveable losers, who play a key role in the climax, and amusingly enough after the climax they go back to being the same old loveable losers, as if nothing had happened, like characters out of a Beckett play.
Waiting for Mowgli – a lost Samuel Beckett play
It is rare for a film’s villain (particularly a Disney villain) to physically appear so late into the story. For the majority of the film, Shere Khan is an unseen presence, and yet the threat of his return is palpable throughout. This no-nonsense tiger is repeatedly referred to by numerous characters throughout the film, heightening the sense of threat and danger for Mowgli and building suspense and tension for the audience. It is not until about two thirds of the way through the running time that he finally appears …
Apparently hunting Bambi’s Mother …
‘Your Mother cannot be with you anymore. She had enough of harsh winters and relocated to India.’
… and despite only having a few short scenes in the film, he is able to make a tremendous impact. Being deliciously RP English and smooth, he is often perceived as a precursor to many British-accented antagonists in the Disney canon. Hmm now why did this become a trend …?
Special Note from Melissa: Feast your eyes (and ears!)
Shere Khan is figuratively speaking the king of the jungle, the top predator who is set to kill Mowgli before he becomes a man with guns and fire as means of defence and attack: a true example of survival of the fittest. But what works incredibly well is that Shere Khan is not just a bloodthirsty animal; he is charming, cunning and suave. After all he is superbly voiced by George Sanders whose rich bass tone really contributes to this villain’s debonair yet threatening presence. Even his smug facial features were modelled on the actor. Plus he is effortlessly funny, which can be attributed to both his voice and his expressions. He revels in his villainous acts and is incredibly entertaining to watch. His graceful yet menacing feline physicality coupled with a sense of human classiness marks him as a great villain. Watch him in the scene which he shares with Kaa. It is a scene reminiscent of the Honest John and the Coachman scene in Pinocchio (albeit amusing rather than heart-stoppingly terrifying) …
Shere Khan has more class. No gurning faces for him.
Except perhaps here.
… in which one villain undermines another. Kaa’s powers of hypnosis are shown to be very effective against the likes of Bagheera and Mowgli, but Shere Kahn has no time for that sort of nonsense. He is cool, smooth, dominant and completely un-phased by Kaa’s antics, looking only mildly annoyed when he tries to hypnotise him, smacking his head down while nonchalantly rejecting his offer. If Oscar Wilde had ever written a role for a tiger, I imagine Shere Khan would have been pretty close (George Sanders after all did play Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray).
‘I can’t be bothered with that. No I don’t have time for that sort of nonsense.’
Shere Khan nearly kills off one of the main characters in the climactic face-off, and not just any main character, but the loveable comic figure, which at this point in the canon, hasn’t particularly featured. Unlike a number of previous Disney villains (and ones to come …), Shere Khan has no henchmen; he needs no help from anyone to get what he wants and the only reason he fails to annihilate his victims is due to a conveniently timed lightning-bolt-ex-machina, which starts a fire. We have questioned whether his fear of fire undermines him as a terrifying antagonist …
Bizarrely enough could fit in well with ‘cute cat videos’ on YouTube …
… or in fact reiterates that every villain has an Achilles Heel, and although it does not go into much detail with this in Disney’s adaptation, all of the animals are terrified of fire, including Shere Khan. Also we can assume that the fire did not annihilate him, leaving it open-ended for him to return …
But that doesn’t mean you should. Even if you do have Tony Jay’s voice …
Shere Khan is a powerful, elegant predator whose flaw is his natural inability as an animal to defeat fire. He was outnumbered, but he was still in the process of winning the fight at the film’s climax. Had it not been for divine intervention, The Jungle Book may not have had a happy ending…
Artwork and Imagery
The artwork in The Jungle Book really stands out from its most immediate predecessors of the Modern Era, as it blends the Xerox pencil sketch character designs with the more traditional and picturesque painted backgrounds. It seemed as though painted backgrounds had become a thing of the past, due to the many changes that were taking place in the studio – but it is really nice to see it here (likely anti-Xerox Walt’s influence!). This is one of the many ways that this film improves upon The Sword in the Stone, it is clear that more effort and attention has gone into the process. Many of the film’s beautiful scenic shots can be seen during the opening credits; they are presented in a similar manner to the opening of Bambi. The artwork in this film, more than any other up to this point feels as though it is blending the old styles with the new.
Check these stunning images alone.
Where the design really excels is in the character animation. One of the things that the film is most remembered for is its characters, and that in-turn is due to the voice cast and the design. The voice actors were all instrumental in the creation of the character designs: the actors’ facial expressions and mannerisms were factored into the ways in which their characters were drawn and animated. Yet on the other hand, the animators were also inspired by the movements of real-life animals; Bagheera in particular moves in such a specifically feline-like way that it is so lovely to watch, while Baloo scratches himself as bears do.
However, there is a lot of recycled animation in The Jungle Book, from Mowgli getting tackled and licked by the wolves (The Sword in the Stone) to the wolf puppies (One Hundred and One Dalmatians) to the elephants shoving each other (Goliath II), plus just re-using animation from the film itself. Cost-cutting perhaps but it is very noticeable! However, we really enjoyed the sequence in which Baloo and Bagheera rescue Mowgli from the monkeys, which is recycled from a sequence in Ichabod and Mr Toad, and very creatively so!
Also there seemed to be inconsistencies, e.g. Kaa’s character design:
Really feeling those 1960s psychedelic swirls …
And come to think of it, Winifred’s character design:
Unlike Disney’s usual style in which the characters (especially animals) tend to have large doe-like eyes, most of the animal characters actually have very small eyes, which offers a sense of freshness and risk-taking from Disney. Consider the large eyed animals in particular in Bambi, and see the contrast:
The underscore for The Jungle Book, again scored by George Bruns, gorgeously fuses Indian rhythms and eastern flavours with the traditional Disney sound, but alas no Disney chorus.
(Special Note from Both: And we didn’t even notice until writing this upon reflection … sorry Disney chorus we don’t miss you butting in)
The Overture in particular is wonderful – it is so mysterious and does a terrific job of inviting us into the film. Also the build up to Kaa singing Trust in Me similarly lulls us into the hypnotic sequence. But of course we also get the familiar strains of Bruns that he loves to keep putting back into films, such as his ‘Sad’ theme (when Mowgli has woken up and Baloo has to tell him the bad news, this underscoring theme was previously used when Arthur stares at his broken broom; and also when Perdita and Pongo come up with the Twilight Bark solution), and there are strains of ‘Action’ themes that sound familiar. Hilariously, the organ score that underscores the Dwarfs mourning around Snow White’s coffin is played during the scene in which Mowgli and Bagheera erroneously think that Baloo is dead – all the while Baloo is amusingly moved by Bagheera’s words – it is like Disney is parodying its own material.
The soundtrack for The Jungle Book contains some of the most memorable songs in the Animated Classics canon, and yet it very easily could have had a very different soundtrack. Terry Gilkyson had written songs for Peet’s original draft, and when Peet left and Walt took over, Walt insisted that Gilkyson’s songs be scrapped and the Sherman Brothers were brought in to write new songs more in line with Walt’s upbeat vision. However many at the studio, including the Sherman Brothers, protested about one particular song, insisting that he cannot get rid of it: that song was The Bare Necessities. The Bare Necessities ironically ended up being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
(Special Note from Both: That must have stung a bit for the Sherman Brothers!)
The Bare Necessities is a really fun number that showcases both Baloo’s character and his philosophy for living. It has a tune that makes you want to get up and dance, the chorus is catchy and instantly-memorable, and the rhymes are terrific (‘rest at ease’, ‘recipes’ and ‘necessities’). The song has a delightfully lazy yet lively tone and Phil Harris has such warmth, charm and likeability that just make the song perfect.
However … the scratching moment did go on a touch too long …
Those cheeky animators! Especially with that high pitched finish … they know exactly what they’re doing
Colonel Hathi’s March is – as the name suggests – a marching song. The Sherman Brothers made use of militant marching rhythms several times in Mary Poppins and that continues here, based on their own military experiences. The lyrics are pretty basic but the rhythm is catchy enough to make up for that.
I Wanna Be Like You is a hugely enjoyable jazzy song, which culminates with an improvised back and forth scat session from Louis Prima and Phil Harris (recorded separately but still improvised). It is near impossible not to bounce or sing along to this song. So far it is the ultimate ‘party’ song in the canon. Apparently it was Richard Sherman’s favourite song from the film.
Trust In Me is a rather sultry, hypnotic number, with a melody lifted from a deleted song from Mary Poppins called In the Land of Sand. It has a very lazy, relaxing tune – fittingly sounding a lot like a snake charmer’s pipe, and the sibilant delivery from Sterling Holloway contributes to the snake-like hiss sounds, creating a comic yet threatening number. It is interesting when you consider that Indian rhythms were very common features of many pop songs in the 1960s, that they were also working their way into Disney.
That’s What Friends Are For blends the sound of a barbershop quartet with a more modern 1960s pop style. The original plan was for the song to emulate the music of The Beatles (no barbershop at all, but 1960s rock), and a demo was recorded, but Walt was concerned that this would date the film. Ironically enough it probably wouldn’t have done because The Beatles and their sound are still so recognisable today … the joy of hindsight.
‘Boys, drop the Beatles sound, no one will know who these guys are in the future’
But regardless of that point, it likely would not have happened anyway because John Lennon vetoed the idea, despite the interest from their manager Brian Epstein, and ironically snarked that they ask Elvis instead … Elvis Vultures … sounds ghastly.
But nowhere near as ghastly as this
Nonetheless, it is a charming short number that still sneaks in a Beatles-esque sound when the guitar kicks in. Furthermore it concludes with a marvellous final line sung by Shere Khan (with Bill Lee of the Mellomen dubbing George Sanders), which is as gloriously bass as bass can be.
My Own Home is a number that we have mixed feelings about. Personally we prefer the melody when it is interwoven into the underscore than the actual song itself. The theme itself is beautiful and it really encapsulates what the film is about, in terms of longing for a home of one’s own. But again like Colonel Hathi’s March the lyrics are very basic for what we have come to expect from the Sherman Brothers, considering that we normally associate them with their incredibly witty, inventive and thoughtful lyrics. It has an old folk-song feel to it, but for us, lyrically it does not quite hit the usual standard of the Sherman Brothers. But the tune is lovely.
The film’s episodic narrative plays out as a series of loosely connected vignettes, with Mowgli’s journey to the Man Village juxtaposed with his desire to stay in the Jungle, acting as the ongoing story throughout. The studio appears to have learned from the shortcomings of The Sword in the Stone with regards to the film’s pacing and variety. Each sequence is full of lively characters and memorable songs, which ensure that the pacing never drops. Something that really works to the films credit is that it is such an effortless watch, there’s no point in the film when it seems like it’s starting to drag. The only issue with this is that there are times when scenes could afford to go on longer, because quite often when a scene ends, we don’t see certain characters again.
(Special Note from David: An issue for me is the slightly flimsy “well, that’s the end of that chapter” manner in which sub-plots are resolved – although I simultaneously find it quite charming)
(Special Note from Melissa: Yes, scenes would just suddenly … stop. Or quickly fade to another scene. It would be hard to call The Jungle Book slow-paced … it has the speediest ‘natural’ transition from night into day)
How did that happen so fast???
The script is full of understated zingers – we’d never finish this blog if we listed all of the sharp and funny lines that are in The Jungle Book. Out of all of the films in the canon so far, this is the one in which we have laughed the most. The general tone of the film throughout is light-hearted and comical, although there is quite often a sense of threat surrounding Mowgli’s circumstances. Many of the characters whom Mowgli encounters have bad intentions, yet the tone remains light. The film has a lot in common with Pinocchio in this respect, except for the fact that the sense of threat is often downplayed, featuring more comic threats in the form of Kaa, King Louis and even the elephants – until the finale with Shere Khan. This is probably a significant contributing factor as to why the film is so easy to watch; the nightmare odyssey that was Pinocchio was really draining, whereas The Jungle Book focuses much more on fun, entertainment and experience.
Bagheera and Baloo’s own journey as surrogate parents for Mowgli is such an enduring parable, featuring one sterner parent, and the other looser and more fun, until the end when it is time to let the kid go, with one encouraging him to spread his wings and the other not wanting him to leave. It is like sending a child off to university or on their first date. It is such a coming-of-age story for Mowgli, with such an organic conclusion, as despite his reluctance throughout the film to go to the Man Village (which can symbolically mean ‘grow up’) he eventually leaves of his own free will. Yes it can easily be interpreted as an ‘Eve temptress’ moment in the form of the little girl, which is quite risky; Ollie Johnston initially thought it was a terrible idea, but changed his mind when he saw that it could be ‘tastefully’ done, keeping it sweet, innocent and playful, rather than uncomfortable.
It seems they were saving their usual Disney big eyes for the village girl ….
What is more important is Mowgli finding his place and identification with another, curious to find out more, and what he encounters in the Man Village is left as a mystery to us – to quote Mary Poppins, that’s as it should be.
Not looking at you
Baloo and Bagheera are left alone, and although initially sad to see him go, it ends on such an upbeat note, with the two of them dancing off into the sunset, showing that after all there is life after Mowgli.
(Special Note from Melissa and David: Although Walt did not like Bill Peet’s original workings of the script, do some research on it, because what he had in mind did sound like a very interesting film!)
I will always have a lot of fondness for The Jungle Book; it was one of my favourites during childhood, and then – after years of Disney having disappeared from my radar – it was the film that reignited my love for the old classics. The voice of Phil Harris is one of the most immediate conduits to lead me back to childhood (The Aristocats and Robin Hood – which also starred Harris – were regular fixtures of my childhood exposure to Disney). Walt Disney’s decision to cast Harris as Baloo has truly contributed to the enduring appeal of the character: I loved Baloo as a child, and now that I’m into my twenties I love the character even more. On rare occasions I’ve stumbled upon clips of various spin-offs of The Jungle Book where Baloo is voiced by different actors, and it doesn’t feel right; which just goes to show that Phil Harris will always be the definitive Baloo.
But it’s not just because of Baloo that makes the film so enjoyable. The film is absolutely packed full of memorable characters, great voice acting, entertaining set-pieces and of course that soundtrack. For me personally “I Wanna Be Like You” is my favourite song from the film, closely followed by “The Bare Necessities” but both sequences are lively and entertaining. Even the weaker songs are memorable and have their own distinct identities.
My appreciation of the voice cast has enhanced significantly since taking on The Disney Odyssey as there are so many returning favourites involved, as well as some great one-off appearances: Louis Prima only appears in one scene, and yet leaves a lasting impression; then of-course there’s George Sanders as Shere Khan. We’ve already seen some of the most iconic Disney villains – such as Maleficent, Lady Tremaine and Captain Hook – but for me Shere Khan will always rank very highly amongst them.
I could go on and on about how great the voice acting is, but I’d just be re-iterating the same point: basically, it’s great and it’s what makes the film work so well.
Even though I’m now a lot more aware of the film’s shortcomings – there’s a lot of recycled animation, the storyline is very simple, the scenes involving the wolves feel pretty rushed – my enjoyment of the film remains unaffected. My only real complaint is that a lot of scenes feel like they end too soon, and even this is a testament to my enjoyment of the film, because I want to spend more time with these characters. Of every film in the animated classics canon so far, The Jungle Book is the most well-paced and consistently entertaining: it’s such an effortless watch, I could sit through it again and again.
The Jungle Book is one that I owned on VHS from a young age. Although I liked it when I was little, I went off it throughout my early teens (I barely even remember why). However luckily enough, my love for The Jungle Book was re-kindled when I was eighteen. When mine, David and our company’s director told us (with a large X-Factor-like pause) that we would be performing The Jungle Book, I remember all of the cheers around me, while I was left feeling uncertain what to think. However, we did the play version and I decided to buy the DVD and some of us in the cast watched it together. I was absolutely mesmerised and entertained by the film, and was annoyed at myself for ignoring it since childhood. So far in the animated canon, The Jungle Book has the funniest script, featuring many laugh-out-loud lines, and it has such a breadth of memorable and engaging characters. The story is simple, but it works beautifully primarily because the characters are so rich and detailed. I really cared about the relationships in the film, primarily in the entertaining trio consisting of Bagheera, Mowgli and Baloo, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Shere Khan is one of the best villains so far in the canon; every time he is on screen, he completely steals the scene with his glorious voice and presence. It has a fabulous supporting cast, with fantastic voice work and animation, as many of the supporting characters only appear in one or two scenes and yet they are incredibly memorable, from the military elephants to the lisping Kaa to the ball of energy that is King Louis to the Samuel Beckett-like Vultures.
The underscore is terrific and the songs are delightful; I am constantly torn between I Wanna Be Like You and The Bare Necessities as a favourite song … hmm perhaps I’ll go with The Bare Necessities this time around, because it encapsulates Baloo’s free-spirited character, the lyrics are inventive and the melody is joyously relaxing and yet has quite a ‘beat’! I agree with David that The Jungle Book is a very quick-paced film, which does work in its favour, as there is never a moment when you feel bored, and it gets right to the point, keeping completely on track as opposed to meandering. If it has any fault it is that at time it is too quick. Animated films were not as long in the earlier days, but I would have loved a slightly longer running time for The Jungle Book, not going further than its ending, but instead spending more time with various characters in the middle, or perhaps giving the wolves a bigger role. Furthermore, the use of recycled animation is really starting to show up more and more (and it will continue to do so), which while inventive at times, can also come across as repetitive. However The Jungle Book makes up for it by being not only a beautiful looking film, but also for manifesting some of the best character animation that the studio has produced. Best friends, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas animated Mowgli and Baloo, and you really feel the bond reflected from their own personal friendship into these characters.
As Walt Disney’s swansong, it really is a fitting conclusion to years of marvellous work in animation. It combines the old with the new, the pencil sketch-like characters with the luscious painted backgrounds, veteran voices with newer voices, and although it possesses 1960s touches, The Jungle Book is a timeless film with entertaining characters and music, and it is so comical and warm-hearted that I will continue to enjoy re-watching it again and again. I thank my director for deciding to stage the play with us years ago because I would have had many lost years without it! To quote Shere Khan ‘What a pity’. It certainly would have been a pity!
The Jungle Book was a huge critical and commercial success; it was the fourth highest grossing film of the year. The New York Times referred to it as ‘simple, uncluttered, straight-forward fun’ with ‘wise, subtle and often hilarious animation’ and a ‘marvellous round-up of human voices’. The voice acting was praised so much that it again certainly opened doors for the idea of casting more famous performers in animated films …
When Gregory Peck was the President of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science, enchanted by The Jungle Book, he fought to get the film a nomination for Best Picture, to open up the door to animated films being eligible for Best Picture nominations. Consequently he resigned in 1970 when other members of the Academy did not agree with him. An animated film will not get a Best Picture nomination until 1991 … The Bare Necessities was nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards, but lost to Talk to the Animals from Doctor Dolittle … the Academy may have made a startling error.
It was re-released in the USA three times, in 1978, 1984 and 1990, and in Europe throughout the 1980s. When adjusted for inflation, it is one of the top grossing films of all time.
Disney Toon Studios created the sequel The Jungle Book 2. Many characters from The Jungle Book appear in the cartoon series, Talespin, in which Baloo is a pilot … yes it happened! There was also another TV spin off series called Jungle Cubs, in which the characters, Baloo, Bagheera, Hathi, Shere Khan, Kaa and Louie are all children and friends.
(Special Note from Melissa: Gah I had a video of this in the days when I was not aware that sequels or spin offs from Disney should almost never be taken seriously. Why on earth were they friends??? And why did Bagheera, Hathi and Shere Khan no longer have English accents? Grr!)
(Special Note from David: And I am more than happy to go on not believing it exists)
The animators of Aladdin, The Lion King and Lilo and Stitch were allegedly inspired by this film, and many animators, including Brad Bird, Andreas Deja and Glen Keane, were inspired by this film to become animators. Mowgli’s voice actor, Bruce Reitherman went on to become a wildlife documentarian.
British artist, Banksy, created a piece of art, commissioned by Greenpeace, with the characters from The Jungle Book, to raise awareness of deforestation.
Before Walt’s death, Walt asked Wolfgang Reitherman to take over in a leadership role, which will lead to a new era of Disney features:
The Disney features of the future will be without Walt’s specific touches – such a change! However it is also sad to know that this was Verna Felton’s last film as she has been such a prominent presence in the canon, playing two fairies, two queens, four elephants (???) and one incompetent dog hater. We will miss you!
Thank you for reading our blog! We hope you enjoyed it! What are your thoughts on The Jungle Book?