The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book (1967)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 18 min.

Release Date: October 18th, 1967 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman Actors: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, Louis Prima, J. Pat O’Malley, Verna Felton, Clint Howard

 


 

D

isney successfully weaves together several of Rudyard Kipling’s original jungle yarns into a fun-filled adventure sure to please children and adults alike. Striking to behold and brimming with unforgettable characters and songs, it’s a sharply animated, organically arranged production, structured to include a wealth of action, humor, and drama – and even a twinkle of romance. Although it never quite reaches the level of emotion or pathos that would later be perfected with “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s still a satisfying blend of fantasy storytelling and cutting-edge artistry.

Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot) finds an abandoned man cub in a basket and, against his better judgment, delivers it to some fellow wolves to raise as their own. The human child, named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, the director’s son), soon grows to be a favorite among the jungle creatures. But with the news of the return of Shere Kahn (George Sanders), a tiger with a pronounced vendetta against mankind, Bagheera and the others decide it’s best if Mowgli is returned to a human village. The boy doesn’t want to go, and runs off for adventures with Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) and King Louie (Louis Prima) the orangutan (as well as run-ins with Kaa the snake and Colonel Hathi the elephant) before realizing that the jungle really is no place for a human.

The characters are effectively conceptualized and flawlessly realized. In fact, several of the roles became so popular that they were later drafted into a spin-off (or, actually, an alternate reality) television series, “TaleSpin,” which took the anthropomorphization to new extremes for an Indiana Jones/“Casablanca”/“Porco Rosso” type of composite. Many of the character designs in “The Jungle Book” also paved the way for future templates, including obvious elements in “Robin Hood” and “The Lion King.” It’s also interesting to note the slate of voice actor regulars, including Sterling Holloway, J. Pat O’Malley, and Verna Felton (along with Harris and Cabot), who bring to life many of the most recognizable of all Disney heroes and villains.

The animation in “The Jungle Book” is incredibly life-like and convincing (though a lack of shadows and the use of solid colors without varying shades relegates it to an older period of the art form’s evolution). From Mowgli’s carefree hopping about in the wilds, to Bagheera’s lithe lunging from tree to tree, to Kaa’s bouncy coils, it’s evident that each new animated venture by this renowned company becomes more precise and detail-oriented. The last film to be personally supervised by Walt Disney, “The Jungle Book” was destined to focus on those important technical details right alongside a significant story. Although it doesn’t follow a particular Kipling tale, its specific combination of animal inhabitants and perilous misadventures is often thought of as the definitive adaptation of the collected fables. In traditional Disney fashion, the plot also makes time for several of the catchiest, sing-along songs ever written (by longtime Disney collaborators, the Sherman Brothers), including “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You.” Plus, it’s all far more entertaining and impactful than “The Sword in the Stone” before it and “The Aristocats” after it.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10