The Jungle Book (1967)

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, J. Pat O’Malley. Disney.

Decent Films Ratings

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Value (+4/-4)
? +1
?Kids & Up

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Content advisory: Animated menace and action.

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The Jungle Book

From a National Catholic Register review

By Steven D. Greydanus

The Jungle Book was the final Disney animated film produced by Uncle Walt himself (who died the year before its release, in 1966). Fittingly, it ranks among the best post-war Disney films, although as an adaptation of Kipling’s stories about the wolf-boy Mowgli The Jungle Book is a more Disneyfied and less effective take on its source material than One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Sleeping Beauty and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

This was no accident: Disney believed (probably rightly) that Kipling’s tone was too dark and serious for a Disney film, and actually kept the source material out of the hands of his team. Longtime Disney collaborator Terry Gilkyson was originally contracted to write the songs, but his efforts were “too Kipling” according to Disney, who brought in the Sherman Brothers to do new songs — with the proviso that they not read the source material.

The result is a bouncy soundtrack that ranks among Disney’s best, and is The Jungle Book’s chief claim to fame (as suggested by the canny tagline, “The Jungle is Jumpin’!”). Ironically, the film’s signature song is the one Gilkyson number that Disney retained: “The Bare Necessities,” with gravelly baritone Phil Harris (in the first of three consecutive Disney performances) as Baloo the bear. The other standout is “I Wanna Be Like You,” featuring jazz great Louis Prima as the anthropophilic orangutan King Louie.

As interpreted by Disney and director Wolfgang Reitherman, The Jungle Book is essentially a coming-of-age parable about carefree childhood and adult responsibility, embodied respectively by Mowgli’s two mentors, Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot). Despite his wish to live as a beast of the forest, Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) finally claims his birthright as a man by taking up fire against Shere Khan the tiger (George Sanders), and is seduced into civilized life by the batting eyelids and melodic crooning of a young village beauty.

Visually, The Jungle Book is unremarkable Disney, although the animation benefits from nice naturalistic flourishes, especially in the movements of Mowgli and Bagheera: the loping, ambling walk of the boy as he swishes a stick in the grass; the feline grace of the panther’s silent, gliding movement through interlacing tree branches and mid-river stepping stones.

Tags: Disney Animation, Disney: Middle Disney, Animation, Family, Musical

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Mail: Re: The Jungle Book

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.)

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Review: The Jungle Book 2 (2003)

C | ** | +1| Kids & Up

The voices are different, but the story is the same.

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