My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Jungle Book (1967; based on the book by Rudyard Kipling)
The Plot: An orphaned boy, raised by wolves in the jungles of India, is returned to civilization by a kindly black panther and sloth bear.
The Songs: "Colonel Hathi's March," "The Bare Necessities," "I Wan'na Be Like You," "Trust In Me," "That's What Friends Are For," "My Own Home"
A Little History: As with Sword In The Stone, writer Bill Pete suggested The Jungle Book as Walt Disney's newest project. Disney, however, rejected Pete's initial script, because he felt it was too faithful to the novel's dark and sinister tone. Pete eventually quit the studio, and Walt promoted animator Larry Clemmons to head of story instead. Songwriter Terry Gilkyson was fired for similar reasons, and was replaced by the Sherman Brothers ("The Bare Necessities" remains Gilkyson's only contribution to the finished film). Phil Harris ad-libbed many of his lines as Baloo the Bear; at the time, he was considered a controversial choice for the role, as many felt such a popular American comedian had no place in a Kipling adaptation. Though Disney personally supervised every aspect of the production, he died on December 15th, 1966 – just ten months prior to the movie's release. Pundits eyed The Jungle Book very closely, convinced its success would determine the studio's future; it grossed over $13 million during its first run in U.S. theaters, all but ensuring Disney's undying legacy. One extra bit of trivia: Verna Felton, who voiced Winifred the Elephant, also played an elephant in Dumbo – her first role for the studio. She died just one day before Walt Disney himself.
How It Broke New Ground: This was the first Disney feature to combine Xerography with hand-inked animation. Xeroxing had originally been employed to render hand-inking obsolete (and skimp on production costs at the same time), but Disney never approved of this process. For The Jungle Book, he sought to find a happy medium between the two.
How It Holds Up Today: One of Disney's most cherished and enduring classics, though admittedly, I've never been much of a fan. Maybe it's the overabundance of talking animal characters (already wearing out their welcome, after Lady And The Tramp and One Hundred And One Dalmatians), or that the story's basically just a kiddie-lite variation on Edgar Burroughs' Tarzan, which I actually prefer. Or maybe it's the generic-looking Xerox animation, which, for me, robs the movie of all its energy and snap; though based in India, the backgrounds are colorful but flat, like an artist's rendering of a Hollywood back lot. The character animation is rightfully celebrated, full of clever little details that bring Mowgli, Baloo and friends to vibrant, wonderful life. But Disney's insistence on scaling back on the story and ramping up on the comedy turns The Jungle Book into a shrug-it-off kind of affair, a tone that would continue to define the studio for the next two decades. Still, the overriding worldwide affection for it soldiers on. Look no further than the $136 million box office tally for 2003's DisneyToon sequel, Jungle Book 2, for evidence of that.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's plenty more to come. Still need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, and The Sword In The Stone. Please comment!