Oh…The Jungle Book.
This film is on my list of least favorite Disney animated films. There are some great points, and some not so great. Alas, the trouble with watching the entire Disney animated canon is that you have to watch all of them – whether you like it or not.
As you would probably guess, The Jungle Book, like most of the Disney stories, was based on a book. In fact, it was a collection of stories, of the same name, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894 and 1895. He also wrote Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, but I digress. Kipling was born in India, where the story is based. I can’t tell you how many people have told me it’s in Africa. Sorry, it’s not. Anyway, like all of the other stories adapted to Disney films, there are many many changes. But as this is a Disney blog, not a literary blog, I will just inform you that you may download the book for free, in its entirety from amazon. Walt, himself, told his animators not to bother reading the novel. He described what he wanted to see for himself.
The story was chosen at the suggestion of Bill Peet (see previous two films). Unfortunately for Bill, Walt hated his screenplay, causing Bill to quit. Bill Peet had worked with the company for twenty five years.
Despite my dislike of the film, there is much to be said about its place in Disney history, from its significance, to the artwork, to the characters, and to the music.
In the film, you will hear three particularly famous voices.
Playing the part of Kaa (my favorite character), the python, is none other than our old friend Sterling Holloway (the stork in Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, etc.)
Playing the part of Baloo, the bear, is Phil Harris. “Who?” you ask? He was a bandleader and a radio man. He will also be the voice of Thomas O’Malley in the Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood (more on Little John in a couple weeks.) He would also give the voice to Baloo in Tale Spin before he was replaced.
And last, but not least, we have the return of Verna Felton, playing the female elephant. You’ll remember her as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, among other roles.
You will hear some of the music of The Sherman Brothers, but arguably not their most famous work. The song, The Bare Necessities (ha, it’s a bear singing it. get it?) was actually written by someone else, Terry Gilkyson..
The Jungle Book is also another example of reused Disney animation.
The wolf cubs in the beginning is reused animation of the puppies from 101 Dalmatians.
When Mowgli calls for the wolves (another beginning shot), that animation is reused from The Sword in the Stone.
The sequence of Baloo running with Mowgli after “I Want to Be Like You” is reused from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
More notable, which is rarely known, the designs of the elephants (along with some animation) was reused from a short entitled, “Goliath the Elephant.” You may also recognize one or two elephants from Dumbo.
Other sequences from The Jungle Book will be used in later films, which we will discuss then. Why reuse animation? To save money. It’s as simple as that.
On the same note, the noise of Louie’s laugh is actually that of B’rer Rabbit’s from Song of the South.
My favorite fact about The Jungle Book, according to Ollie Johnson (one of the nine old men), Baloo’s entrance was acted out by Walt Disney. Ollie used his movements to create the scene.
Another fun fact was that Louis Prima (King Louie) and Phil Harris (Baloo) couldn’t sing “I Want To Be Like You” together due to scheduling conflicts. They recorded their parts separately. Phil’s part wasn’t completely scripted. He improvised quite a bit.
Last, but not least, the vultures are, indeed, supposed to resemble The Beatles, who were supposed to provide their voices. However, a scheduling conflict prevented the Liverpool band to oblige.
However, despite the fun facts, there is one fact that is the most important.
The Jungle Book would be the last animated film that Walt Disney would personally oversee. It would be released October 18th, 1967, after Walt’s death on December 15th of the previous year. More on this in the next post.