For a lot of people, this animated movie is the first (and sometimes only) version of The Jungle Book they will see. In some ways, this is sad. The book, by Rudyard Kipling, is an incredibly interesting piece of literature. Is it anything like this movie (or any other adaptations since then)? Absolutely NOT. The book is extremely dark. The book doesn’t end with Mowgli in the human village. He gets to the man village early, then goes back and forth from it to the jungle having adventures, making the book feel very episodic. It paints the struggle of man vs animal. Definitely NOT the swinging jazz-induced film we’re used to.
In some ways, that shows the power that the Disney Studio has over pop culture. Anyone in the movie business knows that should they choose to adapt a movie Disney’s already done, their movie will get compared. Heck, sometimes that even happens if the Disney movie is made after another version. Suddenly the first one isn’t good enough or “it’s not the Disney one” so no one remembers it. The Jungle Book falls into both these categories. Movies were made before, and versions were made after, and none of them ever seem to do as well or compare to the Disney version. The Jungle Book is locked in association with family entertainment when in fact it shouldn’t. I’m not blaming Disney. It’s just what’s happened. I would LOVE to see a version that follows to the book. I want the dark, scary drama. Sure it’s a little outdated these days, but still, it would be interesting.
This was the last movie that Walt Disney personally oversaw before his death in 1966, and it shows. After having been a bit “hands off” with both 101 Dalmations and the Sword in the Stone, (and partially because the latter was a bit of a disappointment), he oversaw all efforts on this production. So you can thank him for the swinging jazz and family friendly entertainment. In movies after this, you can start to see just how much of an influence Walt had in his studio and what happened afterward (a lot of people refer to the 70s and 80s in Disney as the “Dark Ages,” but I don’t really…).
So back to The Jungle Book. This movie follows a young boy in India named Mowgli. He’s found as an infant and raised by a family of wolves. One day it’s discovered that the apex predator of the jungle, a tiger named Shere Khan, has returned to this part of the jungle, and out of fear for the boys life, it’s decided he must leave the jungle and return to the man village. He reluctantly goes with Bagheera, the black panther, all the while complaining and saying he can take care of himself. From here we have a journey movie with our duo meeting some strange characters, arguing, getting in trouble, and eventually meeting the very tiger they’ve been trying to avoid. At the end they do make it to the man village, but will Mowgli decide to stay in the jungle?
I will start discussing this by putting a disclaimer at the beginning of this: I absolutely despise this main character. In reality, there really is nothing wrong with him. I just really don’t like this kid. I never used to have an issue with him. When I was a kid, I thought he was hilarious and he was someone I could relate to. In that way, it shows he’s a good depiction of a really annoying 8 year old. In my personal life and my teaching life, I’ve found that I really don’t like this age. Maybe that’s why I have an issue with Mowgli, but this kid is just so damn annoying. He thinks he can do everything. He thinks he can take care of himself. I understand he doesn’t want to go to the man village, but this kid thinks he’s goddam invincible. He thinks he can take on a giant tiger. There’s being brave, then there’s just being stupid. Mowgli is the latter. Sometimes I wish this kid would get eaten by a tiger or a bear. I’m sure Bagheera was thinking the same thing. But putting my issues with him aside, he is just a kid. Kids think all the things I said. They think they’re invincible. They think they’re braver than they are. I have to give them credit for making a really believable child that kids can themselves relate to. If I was a kid that lived in the jungle, I wouldn’t want to be taken from there either! I would probably kick and scream and say I could take care of myself just so I could stay. So although I hate him, Mowgli is a well developed child character.
The thing about this movie that makes it really enjoyable and memorable for me (and I’m sure lots of others) are the side characters. Everyone remembers Baloo the bear, King Louie, Bagheera, Colonel Hathi, the vultures, and Kaa (Fun fact: the animators actually created the character of King Louie. He’s not in the first Jungle Book book). While none, besides maybe Baloo and Bagheera (I’ll get to them later), are on screen very long, they all have something quirky and memorable about them. Colonel Hathi the elephant is a war veteran that has his herd walk in formation and shouts out orders. He’s tough but has a soft spot for his son. King Louie is obsessed with learning how to be a human and will do anything to capture the power of “man’s red fire”. The vultures are beatles wannabes (fun fact: Disney wanted the Beatles to voice them, but they said no). Kaa is persistent, funny, and can hypnotize his prey, being possibly the scariest thing in the jungle if it weren’t for Shere Khan.
Then there’s Baloo and Bagheera. Bagheera the panther also acts a bit like a narrator, doing a voiceover in the beginning and a few times though out the movie. He’s been in Mowgli’s life since the beginning. He found him abandoned and brought him to the wolves. Bagheera is the one who volunteers to take Mowgli back to the man village, and as such acts as a guardian the entire movie. He’s serious and set on doing his job right. He’s a realist and very rational, and as such constantly rolls his eyes or grows angry when Mowgli goes off on his “I can survive on my own in the jungle” talk. I thought Bagheera was a boring character as a kid, but now I understand that he’s a responsible adult. Yeah, apparently now we’re all boring if we’re responsible adults. Throughout the course of the movie he does learn to loosen up a bit (with the help of Baloo), but he’s still him. He still wants to do what’s best for Mowgli, and he’s one of my favorite characters.
Then there’s Baloo. He’s the polar opposite of our responsible Panther. He’s Timon and Pumbaa before they existed. He lives a carefree life, and represents Mowgli’s ticket to stay in the jungle. He, like Mowgli, believes he’s responsible enough to look after someone and look after himself. What he fails to see is that kids can be unpredictable – because he’s in many ways a kid himself. Baloo is fun loving and unpredictable too. He doesn’t think things through and barges right in to every situation. Bagheera has his hands full dealing with the two of them. At the same time, Baloo has an extremely good heart, and he’s willing to do anything to save Mowgli. Baloo is who kids always remember, and he’s one of the only characters in Disney-dom who got a spin off that had nothing to do with the movie (Heck yeah Talespin! Sing it!).
The movie’s villain, Shere Khan the tiger, is a really cool villain. He’s only in about a quarter of the movie, but we’re no less afraid of him in his absence. The animals of the jungle talk him up about his hatred of man and how dangerous he is to Mowgli. When we do meet him, it’s because he’s overhearing that Mowgli has escaped. Suddenly, he’s a threat, and he knows about the boy. The tiger’s personality is cool and collected. He knows he’s a bad ass, and he knows there’s no one who can stop him. I’ve always loved when he finally does meet Mowgli, cause the kid is so brave just standing there preparing to fight (or dumb… I’m gonna say dumb) and Shere Khan gets upset because he won’t run and join in the “game.” In the end, even our confident tiger has a weak spot, and Mowgli uses that to his advantage.
Other than the characters, what people remember the most is the songs. What I find interesting about this movie is the discrepancy between the instrumental soundtrack of the movie and the actual songs in the movie. The instrumental parts of the movie are very suave and, for lack of a better word… jungly. You can picture the snake slithering through the grass. You can picture the tiger slinking through the trees. The songs, on the other hand, are 100% jazz and pop. “The Bear Necessities,” and “I wanna Be like you” jump out, but there are others, like the one the vultures sing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the songs and I love the instrumental music, but I just find it odd that the two are so different. It doesn’t detract at all, that’s the funny part. It seems as if they’re polar opposites, but they happen to compliment each other rather enjoyably. If that’s even a word….
The other thing I want to mention about this movie is the animation. Specifically, I want to talk about Disney reusing animation. Whether for budget reasons, staffing reasons, or time reasons, Disney has always been reusing animation. He would take things from his shorts or other movies, change the drawings so it matched the characters, and put it in his current work. A lot of times, you can’t really tell. The movies were either so far apart in time, or the scene borrowed was from a short you might not have seen. Starting with The Jungle Book (at least for me) it becomes a lot more… noticeable. They start borrowing from more recent movies. And it shows. There’s reused animation in here from 101 Dalmations, Sword in the Stone, Snow White, The Wind in the Willows, and a few shorts. Some of those movies were not that long ago. And while sometimes they do a good job covering up that they’re reusing the animation, The Jungle Book (and subsequent movies) don’t try to hide it as much it seems. Again, for me this sloppiness really just lasts through the Disney Dark Ages, even though I know they recycled through the Renaissance. If you’re more curious about this, there’s lots of links, videos and pictures showing the recycled animation. Just search (and here’s one for your enjoyment:
The Jungle Book as a whole is a really enjoyable movie. This is another one of those Disney movies that I always forget I like as much as I do. It’s not nearly my favorite movie, or even in my top ten Disney movies, but it’s enjoyable and fun nonetheless. Why does this not crack my favorite Disney movies despite having talking/singing animals, good characters and good songs? For me, it’s that stupid kid. He’s so freaking annoying to me I can’t stand it. really, that’s it. If they had made him a little more enjoyable, this movie would have been amazing. And while the songs are good, to me, they’re not stuck in my head all day (although I know they get stuck in lots of peoples…). They’re not Disney’s best. (In fact, the song I always get stuck in my head after watching this movie isn’t even from the movie. It’s the incredibly catchy theme song to Talespin…)
If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have and haven’t read the book, I suggest giving it a read. Whichever medium you choose, the characters will stay with you for better or worse. After this movie, the animation studios would have to move on without Walt (although he had still been in production and storyboarding for movies all the way through The Rescuers before his death). This, also, was for better or worse.
I give The Jungle Book (1967) a 3.7 out of 5
Next up: Robin Hood (1973)*
*Yes I know The Arisocats is between these, but I do not own this movie because it is the most god-awful thing and I hate it with a passion. I don’t even know if I could explain why.