Disney’s “The Jungle Book” (1967) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia

Crazy, Daddio, Crazy 60’s Jungle, Man!

PLOT –

Bagheera the panther is tasked with taking the human “man-cub”, Mowgli, back to a nearby village. After a falling out, Mowgli travels with Baloo the bear, and learns that the jungle may be better living than with the humans. They have their fun until they hear that the tiger, Shere Khan is nearby and eager to skin some “man-cub”, and it’s up to Baloo and Bagheera to get Mowgli to the village before Shere Khan gets to Mowgli.

The plot here is pretty streamlined with a clear objective, yet it strays in meaningful ways. Each of the characters Mowgli meets are changed by him, whether through the actions of Mowgli or what they can gain from him. Characters are introduced kind of choppily though, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as fast. Time also plays no factor in this film. There is no urgency to get Mowgli back to the village until more than halfway through the film when Shere Khan appears, so events move lazily along until the next song or action scene. That isn’t to say that the pacing isn’t good, but there is a definite lull post-King Louie.

My PLOT RATING is 4 / 5.

CHARACTERS –

Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) is similar to Wart from Sword in the Stone (also brothers with the actors that played him) in voice and mannerisms. Mowgli is extremely strong-willed and opinionated, yet curious and inquisitive. He constantly wants to learn or fight depending on the situation, and trusts his instincts over common sense, leading him to safety or danger. He does learn a lot throughout the film, and this leads to the ending where he goes off on his own.

Baloo (Phil Harris) is awesome. He’s kind of a bum, a slacker, and pretty lazy, but he has a heart of gold and a lot of honor.  He’s like the stereotypical uncle to Mowgli: less responsibilities than a parent, and way more fun. It’s no wonder why he has so much focus in the film, he’s a relatable character that everyone knows someone like. He also has a great sense of rhythm and music, as well as cunning to put on a disguise.

Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) is the stuffy British caretaker character. He truly does care about Mowgli’s safety, but isn’t antagonistic about it. He recruits the elephants to help find him, as well as convinces Baloo to take him back to the village. He eventually learns to relax, and is patient with Mowgli (but not Baloo) and even though they have a falling out, he realizes that Mowgli still has a lot to learn and lets him take his time to decide about where he belongs.

Kaa (Sterling Holloway) is a minor antagonist that’s also comedic. The way he moves is brilliant, curving and twisting his entire length to the scene’s demands. His voice is somewhat soothing and naturally snake-like, having a Sibilant ‘S’, with a slow sweet song. He serves as a subordinate to Shere Khan (but then again, who doesn’t) and their scene together is a standout.

Shere Khan (George Sanders) himself is a good villain. He has a sense of charm and style with a slow and deliberate way about him. He always has the upper hand or knows more than others he shares scenes with and toys with them for a while. The tension ramps up whenever he is onscreen, and his malice is frantic. Can I also mention that his singing voice hits an amazingly low bass note? He does show up late in the film, but is mentioned throughout beforehand, gaining a larger presence.

King Louie (Louis Prima) and his monkeys are pretty great characters. Louie is the dark reflection of Mowgli and what he could become if he stayed in the jungle. Louie’s glass ceiling issue is interesting, making him the only antagonist that wants Mowgli alive, thinking that the boy knows anything about fire. His want of more power becomes his own undoing as he loses the temple that has become his kingdom. Aside from his slight antagonism, he really isn’t a true villain though and has a lot of comedic moments with his subjects (who are just as fun-loving and crazy as him, but punnier) and Baloo.

The Elephants are funny, and quite memorable. They are a holdover from wartimes, always prepared and ready. Colonel Hathi (Jay Pat O’Malley) is pretty funny, seriously stuffy and ready to challenge those who want to take over his troops. His wife, Winifred (Verna Felton) is humorous, nagging, and actually helps advance the search for Mowgli. Their child, Hathi Jr. (Clint Howard), is adorable, and has a lot of cute moments in the film. The elephants provide comedic relief, as well as main character support throughout the film, even deterring Shere Khan at one point.

The Vultures (Lord Tim Hudson, Chad Stuart) are a Beatles parody. The Liverpool accents, mussy hair, and number of them (The Feather’d Four?) all point to this. They even have a ‘barbershop quartet’ acapella song that turns into a Beatles parody somewhat. They help Mowgli in the final confrontation, they’re all funny, and they even have a recurring joke that’s pretty good. I also have a predilection towards vultures, so there’s another reason why they’re great.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 5 / 5

DIALOGUE –

The dialogue is getting better and better with each film. Characters have great conversations with modern (for the time, anyways) flair, and traces of hippie, beatnik, and jazz culture. The songs are led into quite well, with the dialogue stopping for a second to let the track come in. This film is more of a musical than others, and the dialogue moments are excellent, especially the exchanges between Shere Khan and Kaa, as well as Baloo and Bagheera after fighting Louie.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 5 / 5.

EFFECTS –

The effects and the animation in this film are very good. Disney truly gets the Xerox Process here, showcasing feathers, fur, and fire all quite nicely. The scratchy drawing-like sketchiness leads to great texture, especially on the elephants, hi-lighting every wrinkle and crevice on their bodies. Kaa gets special mention with all of the creative shapes and lines made with his body. The painted backgrounds are gorgeous, and several can be hung on a wall or used as screen savers. However, a lot of animation is recycled,  flipped, or reused here to save on costs, and it makes some scenes less unique.

My EFFECTS RATING is 4 / 5.

MUSIC –

George Bruns does it again, and this may be one of his best. A bombastic score that gives way to the more quiet moments when it needs to, with an Indian flare. There also is some jazz, which clashes somewhat with the setting, but fits in context. A lot of the song feature brief vocal interjections that give more life to them, that these are just conversations between characters put to music for the audience. It’s a good touch to give.

“Colonel Hathi’s March (Elephant Song)” – Militaristic and droll, but fun and catchy. Kind of shows how bumbling these elephants can really be. Also features a reprise that is just as good

“The Bare Necessities” – Chill, fun, and say it with me now: A true classic. Try not to tap your toes during this one. Or hum. Or smile.

“I Wan’na Be Like You” – A whole lotta scatting and horns in this one. Similar to “The Bare Necessities” but slower and more deliberate, but goes off the rails and becomes cra-azy, man! A great showcase of Prima’s talents.

“Trust in Me” – I’ve always enjoyed Sterling Holloway’s singing, and this is no exception. He makes little interruptions that are so characteristic for Kaa, and the song is given life through not just his voice, but also in the beautiful animation.

“That’s What Friends are For (Vulture Song)” – A ‘barbershop quartet’ that turns into a Beatles parody. Actually quite good, with some singing from Mowgli and Shere Khan as well.

“My Own Home” – Such a beautiful song with an outdated message, yet hopeful with promise of the future, paralleling Mowgli at the end of the film. It’s all about finding your home.

My MUSIC RATING is 5 / 5.

OVERALL –

This film really turned around the scratchy era of animation, and Disney in general. The scratchy animation combined with the classic painted backgrounds presents a beautiful fusion of new and old, the voice cast boasts several greats, showing that celebrities, when used right, do not distract from the characters, and the music is an eastern-jazz fusion that just works. The plot is a little choppy in places, and some of the animation is recycled, but this film is the template of what is to come from Disney animation afterwards.

It is a heartfelt and crying shame that its namesake, the amazing and wise Walt Disney, would not live to see his empire come to fruition.

                                                                 Walter Elias Disney                                                                  December 5, 1901- December 15, 1966

My OVERALL RATING of Disney’s The Jungle Book is 92%.

Next time, we shall venture forth without Walt…

SIGH, To a small Parisian town…

SIGH, In which we meet…

SIGH, say it with me now…

THE ARISTOCATS!

Stay tuned!

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