This is one of the few Disney animated films my dad likes. And let the world know, he absolutely cannot stand cartoons. I was watching The Jungle Book one day and he came in about midway through the film and sat down. Instead of asking for the remote like he normally does, he was actually laughing at the antics of King Louie and his monkeys. By the time the film was over, he said, “I actually like that one. It’s fun, not serious.”
I think my dad summed up The Jungle Book really well. It’s a fun movie from start to finish, which contrasts very dramatically with the original source material by Rudyard Kipling; Mr. Disney literally told his story team to ignore the book completely because they were writing the film too dark (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061852/trivia). But behind the scenes, the film wasn’t all fun; it makes me sad to watch this film because I know it was the final animated film Walt Disney personally supervised before he passed away.
It’s kind of morbid to look at a man’s life in terms of the movies he made. As of this film, I’ve reviewed nineteen Disney animated films, all of which were personally touched by Mr. Disney somehow. From his supposed “folly” in Snow White to the “jumpin” comedy of The Jungle Book, we’ve talked about them all on here. He lived through about three quarters of The Jungle Book’s production and long enough to green light The Aristocats. That’s twenty animated films that Walt had a hand in. But in those twenty films, he left behind a legacy of films that people are still talking about, that children are still watching for the first time, and that are still evoking emotions in people that they didn’t know they were capable of. Mr. Disney, the world would never be the same again because of you.
Also leaving a bittersweet taste in my mouth is the fact that this was Verna Felton’s very last role before she passed away exactly one day before Walt did. She voiced Winnifred, Colonol Hathi’s wife. Her first role in a Disney film was as an elephant in Dumbo and her last role for Disney would be as elephant as well. Sorry, if I’m kicking things off for The Jungle Book on a rather somber note. I felt like it would be better to get the sadness out of the way so that we can focus on the exuberant joy The Jungle Book exudes.
And exude exuberant joy it does. I blame Phil Harris entirely for that. You know many people name The Jungle Book as the last film in Disney’s golden age. I prefer to think of it as the start of the Phil Harris trilogy. He’s probably my favorite male Disney voice and this film was his introduction to Disney. It’s such a cool voice, like the kind of guy you want to hang out with, and yet there’s so much warmth there too.
And my God, did he kill the songs he was given. “The Bare Necessities” was the only song from the film that received an Academy Award nomination for best song, and I don’t doubt that Harris’ amazing vocal performance had something to do with it. “I Wan’na Be Like You” is amazing too, but that was also due in large part to the late, great Louis Prima as King Louie. The bridge in the song where Harris and Prima are “scatting” (I had to look it up. Scatting: improvised jazz singing in which the voice is used in imitation of an instrument) was improvised entirely by the two performers.
But there’s more to Harris’ performance than jazzy music and fun loving attitude. Harris managed to convey beautifully how much he cares for Mowgli when Bagheera told him about Shere Khan’s threat. Ollie Johnston took it even further when he animated the scene. It’s impossible to not feel the weight on Baloo’s shoulders as he walks through the jungle with Mowgli; the way his eyes shift and eyebrows furrow reveal the full gamut of emotions Baloo is going through at that moment.
His scene with Kaa is revealing to say the least. Since Kaa was the first threat to Mowgli that the audience met, it’s indicative of the hierarchy of villainy to watch the two of them interacting together. Kaa knows to fear Shere Kahn, and lies through his lisping forked tongue about the man-cub’s whereabouts. What amazed me was the animation of Shere Kahn’s face when Kaa was describing his ailments; the fake sympathy on his face was downright comedic and totally unexpected on Shere Kahn’s part. Of course, Shere Kahn proves his superiority by whacking Kaa’s head to the ground with just one paw when the snake tries to hypnotize him, and yet he’s still blasé in his vocal response. It seems about the only things that get Shere Kahn to raise his voice are Mowgli and the elephant patrol.
I love Colonel Hathi. J. Pat O’Malley was using his Colonel voice from One Hundred and One Dalmatians; in fact, if they weren’t completely different animals, I would allege that Colonel Hathi and the Colonel are related somehow, or maybe they served in the same regiment at some point. I was laughing pretty dang hard when he was going down the line doing his inspection and when he broke his marching stick while recounting about the time he received the Victoria Cross. The role of his son, by the way, was one of Clint Howard’s (Ron Howard’s brother) first roles.
Since Shere Kahn cannot be reasoned with, he almost kills Baloo. Rather unexpectedly for this film, I started crying when everyone believed Baloo was dead. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a scratchy kid voice asking for his father figure to get up. Of course the tears turned to immediate laughter when Baloo began providing commentary on Bagheera’s moving and eloquent eulogy. Best line: “I wish my mother could’ve heard this.”
Probably my favorite part of the whole movie is the scene where Mowgli decides to give the man village a try. It’s a simple premise. Mowgli and Baloo are still riding high from their big show down with Shere Kahn and have just affirmed that nothing will ever come between them again. Suddenly, a lovely yet haunting melody that he has never heard before in the jungle distracts Mowgli. He decides to investigate leaving Baloo and Bagheera alone together as they watch the scene unfold.
Ladies, if you want to master the art of seduction, study this scene like its religion. There have been a lot of beautiful, memorable heroines to come out of Disney, but none of them can top this little girl from The Jungle Book. The way she sings “My Own Home” (one of my favorite Disney songs, and one that I frequently sing when I’m watering my plants) while playing with her hair is so undeniably feminine. Can you blame Mowgli for wanting a closer look? But what could possibly drive a very stubborn boy into abandoning his friends and leaving behind the home that he had been fighting to keep all through the film?
The thing that clinches Mowgli’s decision is when he takes one last look at the jungle and his friends, but then turns to see the little girl giving him that “come hither” look again before scrunching face in an impossibly adorable manner before smiling really big at him. The decision was made instantly. He smiles big and goofy like and shrugs at his friends before stepping inside the man village. Ladies and gentlemen, Mowgli is twitterpated.
The film ends on Baloo and Bagheera walking into the sunset together, singing about “The Bare Necessities.” With Mowgli finally where he belongs, Baloo and Bagheera manage to find a friendship in each other despite the whole ordeal. I wonder if Bagheera and Baloo would have any idea what the future held for them. The Jungle Book was an incredibly successful film, and had a life far beyond its original release. For one thing, a lot of The Jungle Book characters would have roles on the Disney afternoon favorite, Tale Spin, and would even spawn a Muppet Babies like series called The Jungle Cubs. Characters like Baloo and Louie are really popular face characters at the theme parks, usually found around Adventureland. This is definitely an iconic film, one whose success guaranteed that the animation department would stay open after Walt’s passing. For that, we are grateful to The Jungle Book, despite the extreme differences that came about in translating the book to film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gone, man. Solid gone.