I’ve always been unhappy with Disney’s interpretation of The Jungle Book, or at least of Baloo. Kipling’s portrayal of Baloo is as the embodiment of wisdom, the one who teaches the Law of the Jungle to the cubs of the wolf pack. Disney’s Baloo seems to me to be a rather silly and lazy creature — fun to be with, perhaps, but not the beast of stature one finds in the original. He sort of reminds me of Shakespeare’s portrayal of Falstaff. I say this with the understanding that The Jungle Book may be an excellent film on its own merits.
Yes, it was particularly with the portrayal of Baloo in mind that I wrote that while The Jungle Book ranks with the best post-war Disney films, it is not, like Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, very good as an adaptation.
Falstaff is an excellent point of reference for Disney’s Baloo. I can appreciate Walt Disney feeling that Kipling’s tale was too dark for a family cartoon, and certainly Baloo adds much comic mojo to the film. Had Disney wanted to lighten the film while at the same time being more faithful to the source material, perhaps he could have introduced a different character to be the comic relief, and allowed Baloo to remain the master of lore he is in Kipling.
Disney, though, tended to see source material as raw fodder to be used however the filmmakers saw fit, and his best adaptations are often those where the nature of the source material provided the best match for the kind of thing Disney liked to do anyway.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh may just be the best marriage of source material and classic Disney style in the whole Disney canon. (Snow White and Bambi are better films, but Bambi like The Jungle Book, departs substantially from its source material, while in Snow White the Disneyfication process was not yet fully in place.)