Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons/Ralph Wright/Ken Anderson/Vance Gerry/Floyd Norman (uncredited)/Bill Peet (uncredited)
Based on book by: Rudyard Kipling
This is the last animated film that was produced by Walt himself. He during its production.
Everyone loves The Jungle Book. It’s among my favorites. But a lot of people don’t know that is had a pretty rough start. Bill Peet, who had written One Hundred And One Dalmatians and The Sword In The Stone brought the idea of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book to Walt, saying that they could do a lot with the animal characters. Walt loved it and told Bill to write a script.
Unfortunately, Bill thought it would be a good idea to keep the dark tone of the book. Walt didn’t like that and asked for rewrites. Bill refused and ended up quitting the company because of it.
After Peet left, Walt brought on Larry Clemmons, who he told to not read the book. Just write what you THINK The Jungle Book is all about. They kept a lot of the character personalities that Peet had created and ended up incorporating the personalities of some of the voice cast.
The conflict hit the music, too. Terry Gilkyson had written a bunch of songs for the darker version of the film. Disney threw all but one out: The Bare Necessities. (Considering that’s the most memorable song in the entire film, I’m curious as to what the other discarded songs sound like.) The Sherman Brothers, who had just gotten off of The Sword In The Stone and Mary Poppins, write the rest of the songs.
The story of The Jungle Book follows Mowgli, a man-cub who was raised by wolves in the jungles of India. He’s protected by Bagheera (a jaguar) and ends up befriending Baloo (a bear) who teaches him all about jazz. And slacking off. And, of course, the bare necessities of life. They’ll come to you!
The Jungle Book is one of the most popular Disney movies for a reason. The characters are great, the music is perfect, and Phil Harris, Phil Harris, Phil Harris. As soon as Baloo is introduced, he steals the entire movie from everyone else. Then Louis Prima shows up in the form of King Louie, and he damn near steals it from Phil.
There are times when King Louis and the apes are pointed to as part of Disney’s casual racism of this time. To be honest, I’m not seeing it. The character design is a monkey, not a man-like monkey. And Louis Prima is playing himself, not vamping it up in any way. He was an Italian jazz/swing singer/trumpet player. That’s exactly what he’s playing here but in monkey form. Even the dance was inspired by how Louis and his band moved on stage.
I dunno. I’m open to discussion on that, of course. But I think, in this case, a monkey is just a monkey. The next movie on the list is WAY more obvious.
Eventually, Mowgli is told that he needs to go to the man village to live among his own kind. The jungle is just too dangerous for a man-cub, especially with the tiger, Shere Khan. He hates humans and wants Mowgli dead.
Mowgli ends up running away and finding a crew of vultures. Originally, The Beatles were supposed to voice these guys, but John Lennon was a spoilsport and didn’t want to be involved in an animated film. (Of course, they would turn right around and be only very slightly involved with their own animated film, Yellow Submarine the next year.) Instead, they cast a couple of British actors, a British DJ and Chad Stuart of Chad & Jeremy, who were currently trying to score hits like they had a few years before. Sadly, they wouldn’t have any more real hits and would break up in 1968. (Check out their album from 1967, Of Cabbages And Kings. It’s a pretty good little British soft-psych album. Silly, but fun.)
The Jungle Book was a huge hit for Disney and has continued its influence ever since its release. There was a sequel made in 2003 where Mowgli returns to the jungle to see his animal friends. I remember seeing a preview and thinking that the ONLY person who could take Phil Harris’s place would be John Goodman. Turns out that I was right. It’s easy casting, but it’s also the best casting.
Not only was there that direct sequel, but there was a live-action film made in the 90s (with Jason Scott Lee), a direct to video prequel to that film, and yet ANOTHER live-action remake made just a couple of years ago. (That one is actually pretty good and reused a lot of the songs from the original.) The characters have shown up in other shows and video games and Phil Harris basically revisited his character in Robin Hood a few years later. (And kinda in The Aristocats, too.)
This movie is a genuine phenomenon. Everyone loves it. You can see its influence in so many animated films today. It might not be the most beautifully animated or most complex, but it’s definitely one of the most fun films Disney have ever produced.