THE JUNGLE BOOK
Directed By: Wolfgang Reitherman
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1895)
Premiered On: October 18, 1967
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
The last film that Walt Disney helped to produce and one that was released following his death, The Jungle Book is easily the one and only Disney film, thus far, that has had the most spin-offs and alternate adaptations to date. It is also given critical acclaim for its wonderful soundtrack and is easily one of the few Golden Age films whose collection of songs are recognized instantly with a few musical tones.
The story of the film follows a man cub by name of Mowgli who had been found in the jungles of India and was raised by a pack of wolves as one of their own. While Mowgli has spent ten happy years with the wolves, his time with them comes to an end as word reaches the pack that the man-eating tiger Shere Khan has returned and seeks to make a meal of the lad. For his own safety, the wolf pack decrees that Mowgli must be taken to his own people where he will be safe from Shere Khan and Bagheera, the black panther, volunteers to escort him there.
Unfortunately, Mowgli is quite determined to remain in the jungle and much trial and tribulations face the pair as they traverse the jungle, from the hypnotic eyes of the ginormous python Kaa, to the slightly absent-minded Colonel Hathi and his elephant patrol. Finally having enough with Mowgli, Bagheera leaves him to his own devices and the lad meets the true star of the film, a laid-back bear by name of Baloo who promises to raise Mowgli as a bear-cub of his own.
However, the pair’s fun and fancy-free time is cut abruptly short when a horde of monkeys make off with Mowgli to deliver him to their oranguatan leader, King Louie, who offers Mowgli a chance to remain in the jungle so long as the boy teaches him how to make fire. Baloo and Bagheera come to the rescue, which results in most of King Louie’s palace to be demolished into rubble, and the panther manages to convince Baloo that the jungle is not safe for Mowgli so long as Shere Khan remains.
Baloo tries to explain to Mowgli that the Man-Village is the best place for him but Mowgli accuses him of breaking his promise and runs off where he eventually runs into a flock of vultures. A group of friendly vultures whom bear a strong resemblance to a certain British band of yester-years but I digress. Shere Khan appears on the scene and while he successfully scares off the vultures, Mowgli admits that he has no idea why he should run from the tiger and that he feels no fear of him. Shere Khan attempts to demonstrate precisely while the boy should fear him only for Baloo to arrive in the nick of time.
The bear keeps the tiger distracted while Mowgli makes use of some flaming branches from a tree that had been struck by lightning during the fight. The boy ties the branches to Shere Khans tail and the tiger, rather justifiably, freaks the heck out and runs off into the horizon as the fire draws ever nearer…
Bagheera and Baloo take Mowgli to the human village but the boy is still quite reluctant to go until he catches sight of a beautiful young girl from the village approaching the riverside to fetch some water. The girl, spotting Mowgli, “accidentally” drops the water pot and Mowgli, quite smitten, eagerly retrieves it for her and follows her into the village.
On the one hand, I can’t believe that was what it took to convince Mowgli to go into the village and on the other hand, I’m quite bemused that it was a girl making “goo-goo” eyes at the boy that lured him out from the jungle. Then again, considering how grim and dark the original book was, I suppose it was a far better ending than what originally transpired.
Though not as extreme as some Disney films will later be, The Jungle Book does differ in quite a lot of ways from the original story, mostly in how a lot of the animal characters are portrayed. I’ve already spoken of Shere Khan’s differences, but as to the others, oh, where do I even start? I suppose in the most obvious one, that being King Louie who does not exist in the original stories. In point of fact, it was because the monkeys sought to make Mowgli their king that they even kidnapped him in the first place.
On that same vein, it was not only Baloo and Bagheera whom came to the rescue but Kaa as well, who was actually something of a close friend to the boy in the books, only slightly less so than Bagheera or Baloo. In point of fact, it was thanks to Kaa that Mowgli was even rescued at all as it was he who broke down the walls of the monkey city and it was his serpentine hypnosis that distracted the monkeys long enough for the others to make their escape.
Heck, in the sequel novel, Mowgli and Kaa actually spend time relaxing with each other and even wrestling with one another to see who is top form. It was also Kaa who gave Mowgli a sound piece of advice in regards to leaving the jungle for the last time.
Bagheera was virtually unchanged only because his past remained unexplored in the film itself save for one instance. The wolf pack, knowing of the dangers that raising a man cub amongst them would bring, demand that the boy be spoken for and so Bagheera buys Mowgli’s life with that of a freshly killed bull, which Mowgli must never kill or eat for himself as he owes his life to the cattle.
Baloo meanwhile is actually quite different from how he is portrayed in the book. In the novel, he is a teacher to the wolf cubs, teaching them the Laws of the Jungle and is a bit heavy-pawed when it comes to dealing out some necessary discipline.
As to the music of the film, I’ll admit, I had a tough time of it and in the end I came down to two choices. The song that I feel which best describes the film as a whole and the one that is my own personal favorite of the bunch. Starting with the former, the song that easily fits the film to rights is the song, “The Bare Necessities” as sung by Baloo. Not only is it an incredibly fun song to listen to but it’s also quite an amusing show to watch as Baloo demonstrates how one can live easy in the jungle and yet also demonstrate that Mowgli’s attempts at mimicking him fall far too short.
As to my own personal favorite song in the film, it’s the song “That’s What Friends Are For” via the vulture flock. The vultures and their song were purposefully designed to resemble the popular British invasion band The Beatles and it was intended to have the band voice and sing for their respected avian characters. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, and John Lennon having something of a hissy fit, and told Disney to hire Elvis Presley instead.
Keeping the looks and accents the same, the song was rewritten as a barbershop quartet. Frankly, it was amusing enough to see a quartet of vultures singing and dancing to a song about being friends but when one adds human hair to the mix, it’s just hilarious. Adding in Shere Khan’s interruption at the end almost makes me wish to have a version sung entirely by him.
As I stated earlier, The Jungle Book is one of the few Disney films to have multiple adaptations and spin-offs resulting from its box office success. There was the animated series TaleSpin that takes place in an alternate 1930’s world where Baloo is a bush pilot for hire in the cargo freight business.
Another animated series based on the popularized idea of “baby” versions of well-known characters known as The Jungle Cubs. A live-action remake in 1994 with a direct-to-video prequel/spin-off in 1998, and an upcoming new attempt at a live-action adaptation this year with many a well-known actor and actress providing life to the animal kingdom.
Overall, The Jungle Book gets ten out of five stars from me. The animation is top notch, the songs are timeless, and the story is one that can be viewed and enjoyed by all ages. It may get a bit frightening at times, particular when Shere Khan is in his element, but overall it’s a fun tale to enjoy and much more fun to sing along as well.