The Jungle Book is the last animated film produced by legendary pioneer filmmaker Walt Disney. A man whose influence can still be felt more than 50 years after his untimely death. Although The Sword in the Sword was the last animated film released in his lifetime, The Jungle Book was the last one with his personal touch. As the nineteenth animated production (plus all of his live-action work), that equalled about 81 movie’s Disney had a hand in. So his final film had to go out with a bang. Luckily The Jungle Book turned out to be a perfect choice. Disney really wanted to do another story about animals. That’s when the famous 1894 Rudyard Kipling book was brought to his attention.
Most fans of the book know that the original stories were very dark and episodic. Mowgli is still a man-cub living in the Indian jungle, but the tone is far more philosophical. With themes of one’s place in society and the tension between man and animal. Disney didn’t wanna do any of that. That was the direction at first, but Disney just wanted to have fun with the story. It’s possible his failing health influenced the light hearted tone. With far more focus on swinging jungle fun that made this the best outing Walt Disney could have asked for (effectively ending the Silver Age)…
The Jungle Book was one of me and brother’s all time favorite Disney movies when we were man-cubs. The infectious music and fun characters meant frequent rewatches on VHS. Although Disney’s death was likely a factor, The Jungle Book nevertheless deserves all the appreciation its gotten over the years. Even if it’s surprisingly light on plot. With the opening of its titular book, the story begins in the jungles of India. It’s there that the baby man-cub Mowgli is discovered. Mowgli is the final child character that Disney worked on. He’s the second most iconic literary jungle human, best recognized by his red loincloth. Mowgli is notably the first non-white lead in an animated Disney movie. As Mowgli is of Indian descent.
Bagheera the black panther discovers the man-cub all alone in a basket. So he decides to bring him to the wolves. Where they lovingly raise him as one of their own. Until the jungle becomes too dangerous for him. Bagheera is a straightlaced, but caring guardian to Mowgli. He escorts him to the man village where he’ll be safe from a notorious predator. On his reluctant journey, Mowgli meets all sorts of colorful animal characters. The first is a deadly python named Kaa. A more comical threat that hypnotizes his dinner before eating them. Kaa strangely has the exact same voice as a certain sweet honey loving bear. Next Mowgli encounters a pack of marching pachyderms. Colonel Hathi is the head elephant who runs his pack like the military. Including his wife and son. The segment is mostly just there to fill time.
Then Mowgli befriends one of the best animated Disney sidekicks of all time. A happy-go-lucky bear who enjoys the bare necessities named Baloo. Baloo is a hilarious comic foil who brings the fun loving picture to life. Helped greatly by celebrity comedian Phil Harris. In fact, The Jungle Book was another rare animated production that employed famous voice actors. Mowgli is then snatched up by a band of monkey’s that take him to orangutan King Louie. A jazz influenced original character modeled after his voice actor Louis Prima. He’s not in the book, but he does briefly reference the “red flower” (fire). When Baloo and Bagheera rescue Mowgli, the latter convinces the former to let the man-cub go. A betrayed Mowgli runs off just in time for Shere Khan to arrive.
Shere Khan is a classy tiger complete with evil British accent. He’s one of the best villainous Disney animals with a deep hatred for man. After another nasty encounter with Kaa, Mowgli finds himself in the outskirts of the jungle. There he meets a wake of vultures clearly inspired by the Beatles. Who unsurprisingly turned down a chance to voice. Mowgli and Shere Khan face off in battle aided by a brave Baloo. It’s a one-sided fight that only ends when Mowgli uses fire against the scaredy cat. Although it seems like the man-cub will live happily with his father-like bear friend, something catches his attention. An Indian girl that inspires Mowgli to finally enter the man village.
The Jungle Book once again uses sketchy animation, but the story is simple enough for it to work. With stylized animal characters that became Disney icons. Although The Jungle Book was one of the first Disney movies to extensively use recycled animation. It’s almost silly how many shots are repurposed over and over again. All with varying angles that are either at night or during the day. Shots from One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone were recycled as well. That doesn’t affect things much, since the music is really the main attraction.
More modern jazzy 60’s beats were used in many very catchy songs. There’s Kaa’s creepy villain song “Trust in Me.” King Louie’s infectiously upbeat swinging tune “I Wan’na Be Like You.” Then there’s the less notable, but still memorable “Colonel Hathi’s March,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” and “My Own Home.” The best song in the whole movie is easily Baloo’s laid back signature tune “The Bare Necessities.” A song my brother and I sang often when we were younger. With the sense of fun Walt Disney was hoping for, The Jungle Book was a jungle boogie that wouldn’t be recaptured for years to come.