The Jungle Book (1967)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Buddy Movies | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: May mislead children into thinking bears, wolves, and panthers are friendly.

Unfortunately most people know The Jungle Book for being the last film overseen by Walt Disney as he died early in its production. Along with his death came skepticism about the future of the studio’s animation department, but the exuberant flick did so well at the box office that animation secured its position at the Disney studio.

This adaptation is one of at least a dozen in existence, and unlike most adaptations, which focus on Mowgli’s return to civilization, this one deviates by capturing his last days in the wild. Unlike most adaptations, which focus on Mowgli’s return to civilization, this one deviates by capturing his last days in the wild. This rebellion comes with good reason as Disney reportedly told animators to throw out Rudyard Kipling’s book for being too dark.

The story follows Mowgli (Bruce Jungle3Reitherman), an infant raised by wolves in an Indian jungle. You’d think their first reaction would be, “delicious,” but they instead treat him as their own. When the wolves hear that ruthless tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) is back in the area, they empower kind panther Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) to guide Mowgli to a “man village.”

When Mowgli refuses to comply, he befriends a lazy, John Wayne-sounding bear named Baloo (Phil Harris) to teach him the bear lifestyle. His plan seems fine but becomes filled with obstacles such as crazed orangutans led by scatman King Louie (Louis Prima), a hungry snake named Kaa (Winnie the Pooh’s Sterling Hayden), and some military elephants, not to mention Shere Khan prowling around.

Nowadays animated films tout recognizable stars voicing its characters, but The Jungle Book marked the first one for Disney. In fact, the “Whatcha wanna do?” vultures in the film were originally created for The Beatles (they still sound and look like them).

Overall, it’s cute and consistently laughable, with not-so-special animation, but the aspect that sets it apart is a jubilous energy (the words “groovy” and “swingin’ ” come to mind). A perfect example is the toe-tapping and Oscar-nominated song The Bare Necessities, which clearly inspired Hakuna Matata. Other catchy tunes include the jazzy I Wanna Be Like You (my fave), hypnotizing Trust in Me, barbershop style That’s What Friends Are For, and stomping Colonel Hathi’s March.

Wolfgang Reitherman, the father of  the voice of Mowli, directed the film as well as Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and 101 Dalmations, but quite a bit of credit is also owed to Bill Peet, the animator who suggested doing the movie in the first place and actually wrote the first treatment. That treatment, reportedly, included the dark overtones of Kipling’s novel, which Disney wasn’t wrong in deleting (though the resulting argument led to Peet quitting). After all, this film has to be OK for young viewers. And while this film is much more youth-friendly because of it, it also loses a theme at the heart of Kipling’s work – that of the relationship between humans and animals, from the animals’ perspective. Maybe Walt felt he scared enough kids with Bambi, but the heartstrings-pulling potential of how crappy humans are to the natural world seems right in the Disney wheelhouse.

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