RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 18th October 1967
After Walt Disney's death, the Jungle Book team had the sad duty to complete the movie they had been working on, and try their best to make it a film Walt would have been proud of. It was the first animated film released after his death, and this caused a huge box office turnout for the new movie.
The idea was originally brought to Walt by his chief storyman Bill Peet, who had recently led story development on One Hundred and One Dalmations and The Sword In The Stone. Peet drew up a treatment based on Rudyard Kipling's famous novel to present to Walt, but the boss thought it was too dark and serious in tone. Tensions that had been rising between the two men came to a head, with neither willing to budge. After a big argument over the direction of The Jungle Book's story, Peet resigned from Disney and went his own way.
Working alongside a new story team led by Larry Clemmons, Walt took a much more hands-on approach than he had with the previous two films. Unfortunately he would never survive to see the finished product.
As Rudyard Kipling's storybook opens we are taken to the jungles of India.
A human baby (or "man cub") has been orphaned in the jungle. He is discovered by Bagheera the panther, who takes him to a mother wolf who has just had a litter of pups. She accepts the man cub as one of her own and he grows up among the animals of the jungle, learning their languages and their ways of life. He becomes known as Mowgli.
Some years later, Mowgli is under threat by a tiger called Shere Khan, although he himself is unaware of this. The wolf pack tells Bagheera that he must take the boy to the Man Village, the only place where he will be safe. Bagheera begins the journey, although Mowgli is defiant. He doesn't WANT to go to the Man Village; he wants to stay in the jungle with all the animals.
While sleeping in a tree overnight, Mowgli and Bagheera meet Kaa, the snake. (Kaa is voiced by Disney legend Sterling Holloway) Kaa uses his best hypnosis skills, but he is unsuccessful in claiming a meal.
The following morning, Colonel Hathi and his elephant brigade tramp through the jungle. Mowgli joins the crew temporarily.
Still defying Bagheera's mission to see him to the Man Village, Mowgli ends up on his own. Coming through the jungle at this moment is Baloo the bear, who lives a carefree and relaxed life. He takes a liking to Mowgli's prickly attitude.
Baloo teaches Mowgli to live a free life like his. All he has to do is look for the "Bare Necessities!"
Unfortunately while Baloo's back is turned Mowgli is kidnapped by monkeys and taken to King Louie, an orangutan who rules in an abandoned palace.
King Louie wants to know how to make a fire, and tries to convince Mowgli to tell him how it's done. Mogwli has no idea, but King Louie persists.
Baloo and Bagheera arrive to rescue their little friend. Baloo disguises himself as an ape, and for a time the deception works.
After a daring escape, Bagheera convinces Baloo that the Man Village is the safest place for Mowgli to be. Baloo doesn't like it, but he tells Mowgli that he needs to go there before Shere Khan arrives. Mowgli, furious that his new friend has turned on him, runs away. Meanwhile, Shere Khan has arrived in this part of the jungle and has begun to listen for rumours of the man cub's whereabouts.
A sad and lonely Mowgli finds himself in a clearing with four vultures for company. The original plan was to have these vultures voiced by The Beatles, but since that didn't eventuate they still bear a striking resemblence.
It's here that the tiger finally catches up with his prey, who isn't anywhere near as frightened as he expected him to be.
As Shere Khan begins the attack, Baloo appears to save the day. The bear is mauled by the tiger, but in the meantime Mowgli manages to tie a burning branch to Shere Khan's tail. Terrified of fire, the tiger runs away, leaving Mowgli safe.
Sadly, Baloo was badly hurt in the fight. Bagheera says some words of respect over the body of their fallen comrade.
Buuuuut, of course, this is Disney. Baloo's not really dead. In fact, he seems quite all right!
Just when it seems like everything is going to be okay again, Mowgli is distracted by a strange noise... They have unknowingly arrived at the Man Village, and a pretty young girl is fetching water. Hypnotized by her song, Mowgli follows the girl into the village, leaving Baloo and Bagheera behind.
Now that the man cub is safe in the village where he belongs, the bear and panther journey back out into the jungle together, pals til the end.
IRVYNE: First of all, I'm not sure this should be called "The Jungle Book." It's not a book. (Admittedly it does have a book in the beginning, but still...)
I'm afraid The Jungle Book isn't Disney storytelling at its finest, although it does have some decent characters. After trying to analyze WHY the film doesn't work as well as some of the others, there are a few points I picked up on.
1. The plot doesn't really go anywhere. In fact, it doesn't really HAVE much of a plot. The single plot thread is that Bagheera wants to take Mowgli to the village, and he refuses to go. Then he goes to the village himself. The end. Apart from that, nothing else in the story has any real consequence. It's all just incidental chapters.
2. The main character doesn't grow or develop in any way. Mowgli is a very vanilla character. The whole story revolves around him, but he doesn't have any kind of character arc.
3. It's quite humourless. After the wildly hilarious Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book seems very low on gags. There are a few moments that feel like they're supposed to be funny, but they never really hit the mark.
I agree that adapting Kipling's very episodic story into a running narrative would have been a tough ask, but I don't feel like they completely succeeded. It works. But it has a meandering, aimless feeling to it. Nothing really drives the narrative forward.
There are moments of beauty in The Jungle Book...
... Shots that are beautifully composed and full of detail, that make you think "Wow. This is really well made." But most of the movie is bogged down by the same horrible Xerox transfer that had plagued the previous two films. It must also be said that since the entire film is set in the jungle, there's a bit of location fatigue. There's only so many backgrounds of the jungle you can see before it all starts to look the same.
The animation is generally great. I particularly love the animation on Bagheera. They've really captured the panther movement while still giving him an expressive face and human emotions.
The Sherman Brothers once again collaborated with Disney to create the songs for The Jungle Book, and there are at least a couple of classics in here. It's interesting that the songs aren't organised into a typical Broadway-style structure. There's no opening number, there's no "I Want" song. In fact, there's no song at all until Kaa arrives into the story. "Trust In Me" is his hypnosis song.
Alongside Kaa's song, "Colonel Hathi's March" and "That's What Friends Are For" fit into the movie well but are quickly forgotten. The little girl's siren song "My Own Home" is haunting and sweet.
But the two star songs of the film are Baloo's life philosophy in "The Bare Necessities" and King Louie's big swing number "I Wanna Be Like You." (I love that the Shermans gave an orangutan a "swing" song - so cool!) Both of these songs are incredibly catchy and singable.
George Bruns's backing score is good for what it is, but there are a number of scenes that are completely unscored, an oddity for a Disney animated movie. It adds to the "empty" feeling of the jungle, but in doing so loses some heart.
As stated above, I don't think the story of The Jungle Book really works that well. It doesn't have the excitement or drive of the best Disneys and just ends up feeling a bit aimless. It is entertaining in parts and there are some great songs, but ultimately I feel like it falls a bit flat. What did you think, gang?
IRVYNE: I know Kipling is more to blame than Disney, but I did notice there's a huge lack of females in this story! There's the wolf mother, who's maybe in 2 minutes of the film, there's the naggy elephant wife, who's maybe in 2 minutes of the film, and there's the little girl at the end. Probably in 2 minutes of the film. The rest of the cast is 100% boys.
ANNA: And the moral of the story is: "Do what you're told."
MALEFICENT: There's the elephants, there's the snake, there's the monkeys... But they're really just side-tracks along the way.
IRVYNE: All these characters, but they don't mean anything. They don't alter the plot in any way, they just delay it.
HAKU: There's not any growth in the main character either. He doesn't really learn anything.
MALEFICENT: In the end, he doesn't go to the village because he thinks it's the right thing to do. He goes there because some little minx attacks him with her eyes and drops her water in front of him.
MALEFICENT: Yeah, the songs are cool. I love Kaa's song, "Trust In Me." And the vultures' song, "That's What Friends Are For," even though it's not one of the more famous Disney songs. Also, isn't Shere Khan's voice amazing, with his deep deep bass? He's such an English gentleman, I love it.
IRVYNE: I doubt many people would know it, but last year The Jungle Book was adapted for the stage in America. It hasn't gone to Broadway yet (and I hope it never does - in my opinion it looks awful) but it's interesting that this movie was chosen for adaptation over so many other possible candidates...
IRVYNE: It does surprise me that a lot of people consider this one of the greatest Disney films.
ANNA: They do??
IRVYNE: It's not bad, but I've never considered it one of the best.
ANNA: It's nowhere near the top of my list.
SHENZI: It's one that people talk about a lot, but I don't think it's anything to write home about.