The Jungle Book Review (1967 Disney Animation)
Disney’s 1967 classic animated fairy tale, is a loose adaptation of Kipling’s short story novel The Jungle Book.
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Cast: Bruce Reitherman, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, George Sanders, Louis Prima, J. Pat O’Malley, John Abbott, Ben Wright & Darleen Carr.
Run Time: 78 min.
US Release: 18 October 1967
UK Release: 18 November 1968
German Release: 13 December 1968
Welcome to my review of the original 1967 The Jungle Book by Walt Disney Studios. This analysis will lead up to my Disney live-action remake review, with the movie being released in mid-April this year. The 1967 animation is an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s short story collection and was developed by Bill Peet, who also created the stories for 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone. Peet pitched the idea to Walt Disney, claiming that the animation department could do more interesting animal films. After the disappointing reviews from critics concerning The Sword in the Stone, Disney decided to oversee the project himself.
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
A wolf family in the jungle raises Mowgli the man-cub, after the black panther Bagheera found him all alone by a river as a baby. Ten years have passed since that day and Mowgli is now a strong, naive and very rude boy, who wants nothing more than to live with his animal friends and family in the dense tropical forest. But Shere Khan the tiger has returned to that area of the jungle and vows to hunt and kill the man-cub. Bagheera, with the help of Baloo the bear, tries to make Mowgli understand that he needs to go back to the men's village where he’ll be safe from Shere Khan, but the boy doesn’t want to hear it and flees.
As Mowgli makes the acquaintance of a couple of vultures, Shere Khan enters the scene and is prepared to kill him. Baloo and Bagheera intervene and with their help, Mowgli manages to scare off the tiger. As the trio is on their way home, Mowgli is drawn to a girl’s singing voice and follows her into the village, much to the dismay of Baloo.
The story deals with the moral teachings of anthropomorphic animals, which include rules concerning the safety of individuals, communities and most importantly the family. It also serves as a metaphor for human society and is a teaching about the rivalry between man and animal. As with many animated movies in those times, Disney kept the dark tone of Kipling’s original work for most of its runtime, which makes this a movie that can be enjoyed by both, adults and children, something I appreciate very much. The Jungle Book contributed to one of my most beloved childhood memories, sitting in front of the TV together with my family, even though it does not account to my favourite Disney films.
The reason why it doesn’t make my list of favourite animations, even though I love re-watching it every now and then, is the fact that the story feels rushed. Kipling’s short stories that centre on Mowgli could easily be fitted into a two-hour plot but instead; a lot of the story was rewritten and shortened, to fit it into a film that just surpasses the one-hour mark. Because of those cuts in the story, the animated movie differs vastly from Mowgli’s short stories and although similar in tone, Disney’s version also accounts as being much lighter.
Mowgli, voiced by Bruce Reitherman, is my least favourite persona, due to his snootiness and rudeness towards those that are trying to help him. Granted, the animals want to take him back to the village of men, but it is for his own safety and he shows no appreciation for their care. This made it very hard for me to root for the character and at times, I even wished for Shere Kahn to have his way and maul the boy to death. I do like how the movie ends, though, with Mowgli returning to the village because he falls in love with a human girl.
Bagheera & Baloo, portrayed by Cabot and Harris, are my favourite characters in this hand-drawn feature. Both act as adoptive parents for the young boy, trying to imprint their knowledge on him, but Baloo is far from being the animal represented in the short stories. Nevertheless, both have fantastic chemistry and give brilliant renditions of their adapted characters, with Harris playing the more laid-back Baloo and Cabot the wise black panther.
King Louie is an original character created specifically for this film. He was portrayed by Louis Prima and is next to Harris one of the comedic reliefs of the story. The villain Shere Khan, voiced by Sanders, only makes an appearance in the last third of the plot. While he is mentioned in the beginning, his character is very one-dimensional and not fleshed out enough, which makes him seem less dangerous.
The animation in The Jungle Book consists mostly of hand-painted pictures, except for the waterfall that contains footage from Angel Falls. While in later years each animator was given the task to focus on one character, this film had the Disney workers draw complete sequences. The background consists of more rough drawings while the animals and Mowgli are painted with smoother and rounder edges. It was also decided to give Shere Khan facial features to resemble his voice actor George Sanders. One of my favourite cinematographic moments is at the beginning of the film when the book opens and the story gains life.
This animated feature contains eight original songs, seven that were produced by the Sherman brothers and “The Bare Necessities” written by Terry Gilkyson. The instrumental music was written and composed by George Bruns and Walter Sheets. Both music and musicals have a mysterious tone but are also composed and sung cheerfully to lighten up the darker story.
Verdict: Disney’s 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book surely isn’t my favourite Disney animation, but it has a special place in my heart. While I was, and still am, disappointed about how Kipling’s short stories were chopped and rushed to fit the 78 minutes runtime, I also need to acknowledge that the animation, the musical pieces and voice acting are tremendous. But the biggest problem for me is the fact that I can't sympathise with Mowgli, due to the way he behaves. The Jungle Book is one of Disney’s classics, but not one of its best and I will, therefore, give it a 7.0 out of 10.
When did you see The Jungle Book for the first time? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment underneath to let me know what you thought of this Disney classic. I will go watch Eddie the Eagle tonight, so keep an eye out for my review.