51 Days of Disney (Day 19): The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book continues the trend of adapting literature in the British Cycle of Disney films, but this time focuses on a British colony rather than the United Kingdom itself.

The story follows the 10-year-old feral child Mowgli who was saved as a baby by the panther Bagheera and brought up by Rama and his family of wolves and is forced to return to the Man village when Shere Kahn the tiger returns to the jungle. Bagheera is tasked with leading him back, but faces various obstacles such as Kaa the snake (Sterling Halloway) who tries to eat Mowgli on numerous occasions and runs across the Dawn Patrol, a militaristic group of elephants led by Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley) and his wife Winifred (Verna Felton). Eventually, Mowgli runs away from Bagheera and runs into Baloo the brown bear (Phil Harris, who went onto voice Thomas O’Malley in the Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood, and briefly voiced Baloo in TaleSpin) who teaches him the ways of the jungle and tells the man-cub that he can stay with his “Papa Bear”. Mowgli is stolen away from Baloo by a number of monkeys led by King Louie (Louis Prima) who wants Mowgli to teach him how to make fire as so that Louie can be a human. After that ordeal, Baloo finally realizes that Bagheera was right and that Mowgli needs to return to the man village, but runs away when Baloo tells him this. Mowgli finally has his fateful encounter with Shere Kahn (George Sanders) and finally realizes the thing that he has to do.

The buzzards at the end of the film were originally going to be based off of the Beatles, but Walt didn’t want the film to become dated in the event that they didn’t have any staying power. Hindsight is truly 20/20. Imagine how different the movie would have been if this had actually happened. The ending would have taken a bit more of a rock sound to it rather than the barbershop quartet that we have now.

The Jungle Book has another fantastic score done by George Bruns, but this time it was made much moodier and foreign sounding due to the combined India and jungle setting. The score is very versitle, it has some military marches for Colonel Hathi and even some different tempos of Jazz to reflect the laid back nature of Baloo and the more frantic and energetic King Louie. The Sherman Brothers truly brought their “A” game to the table when it came to the songs, giving us such greats as “the Bear Necessities”, “I Wan’na Be Like You”, and the always fun “Colonel Hathi’s March”.

The sketchier nature to the xerox method of animation actually benefits this movie well, considering the fact that the vast majority of the characters are you know, covered in fur. The backgrounds are absolutely stunning, though. The Studio went more with a style similar to the films of the 50’s for these backgrounds, making them much more soft and detailed to react to the more realistic styling of the characters. With the refining of the xerox process, the animators were able to animate more detail into them, which made the Jungle Book easily the best looking animated Disney film of the 60’s. The best animated sequence is easily “I Wan’na be Like You,” Louie’s movements are done so well and the odd anatomy of an orangutan makes it look even better. The elongated arms really sell his movements and makes even the slightest tick look more dramatic.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention TaleSpin in a somewhat larger amount. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of watching the Disney Afternoon, it was the beginning of the greatest period of original cartoons on television. It ran from 1990-1997 and included shows like the Adventures of the Gummy Bears, DuckTales, and Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers that were on TV before the Disney Afternoon was actually established and new shows like Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin.

TaleSpin took characters from the Jungle Book like Baloo, King Louie, and Shere Kahn and placed them into a brand new setting. Baloo became an air courier, Louie became his best friend who ran a bar, and Shere Kahn became a business tycoon. The show was set in a period similar to the 1930’s, a time of air pirates, mercenaries, and is highly reminiscent in style to the Indiana Jones films. The show was fantastic and I would love to do a full review of it (as well as the rest of the Disney Afternoon) at a much later date.

The Disney studios were hit with a sudden and devastating tragedy during the production of this film. On December 15th, 1966, Walt Disney passed away due to lung cancer caused by his years upon years of chain smoking and left the studio without a path to follow and without a leader to be their driving force. Even though Walt had not been nearly as instrumental in the making of the animated films as he had been in past years, especially with his larger involvement in television and in the parks, he was still the final say in almost everything. He even created Baloo’s dance in the Jungle Book by himself. The studio never really recovered from the loss of Walt until the late 80’s, so there are some dark days ahead.

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