The Jungle Book Review
I'm the king of the swingers...
As the last movie that Walt Disney really took a hand in – released less than a year after his death, Jungle Book will always have a special place in Disney’s crown, while its continued financial success won’t hurt when it comes to finding money for re-mastering and re-marketing either.
Based upon the characters and some story elements of Rudyard Kipling’s stories of the same name, the animated film went through a number of script versions and indeed, script writers until Disney was happy that the somewhat rambling and quite dark tale was sufficiently light hearted enough for family audiences. The final script was mostly written by Larry Clemons, Ralph White and Ken Anderson, although Bill Peet’s original characterisations were widely adopted.
The aim was to make a musical cartoon, where the action flowed almost seamlessly into the musical numbers and back out the other side into the more dialogue sections again. This was largely achieved, making the film an interesting hybrid between a true musical and a more traditional cartoon. Countless cub scouts will also know the names of many of the characters, as Kipling allowed Baden Powell to use them for his new wolf cub scouting movement for younger boys.
The story centres around “Man cub” Mowgli. He is found deep in the Indian jungle, his parents presumed perished. Kindly and wise panther Bagheera finds the child and takes him to a wolf pack who are recently blessed with cubs. They raise the child through infancy as one of their own wolf cubs, turning Mowgli into a fun loving, rough and tumble young lad, with few cares or fears, despite living in the deep jungle.
The wolf pack learn than Shere Kahn, a man eating Bengal tiger has returned to their part of the jungle and that Mowgli will be in great danger if he is discovered, also putting their own pack in the firing line if they are found protecting him. It is agreed that Bagheera will take Mowgli to a village on the edge of the jungle, where he will be safe amongst his own kind. The journey is not going to be without its trials, with many other animals taking an interest in the strange pair as they make their way through the jungle. Some, like Kaa, the python see the boy as food, while to the bear Baloo, he is viewed more as a companion and provides wonderful comic asides. Virtually all the main characters get a song or two, many of which are extremely well known even some 45 years after the movie release.
The majority of the comedy within the movie comes from the humanisation of the animal characters. From the upright and starched British style elephant drill sergeant to the wily and cunning Orang-utan King Louie, it is not hard for a child to believe that this is just as animals in the wild behave, if only we could decipher their language. Thankfully the film avoids that terrible American movie trap of becoming too preachy or moralistic in the story telling. It also remains sufficiently simple for even quite young children to follow and the peril is never so grave as to petrify them into hiding behind the sofa. For the grownups, we can appreciate the great musical score and simply effortless and beautiful animation. A number of post Jungle Book releases used the skills and processes developed by the animators and inspired a new generation of artists to enter the profession.
Bagheera is assisted by Baloo in guiding Mowgli closer to the village, but now Shere Kahn is now on their tail, the orang-utans want the secret to man’s red fire and Kaa the python cannot be discounted either. Mowgli is also not sure if he wants to leave the jungle either, as it is the only life he has ever known. As with all young lads, his perception of danger is not quite as developed as is entirely healthy for him, and his friends must save the day quite a few times if they want to see him safely delivered to his own kind. Who can forget the vultures! Styled from the Beatles, they provide a perfect foil towards the end of the film.
For me the only minor flaw with the movie is the ending, as it feels slightly rushed and incomplete. In earlier script versions, Mowgli arrives at the village earlier on in the narrative and continues his adventures. Here, it has more of a sense of finality and incompleteness about it, which is a shame, as the movie would have stood an extra ten – fifteen minutes of action without feeling too long. That minor niggle aside, the film remains a perfect family movie and should be in everybody’s classic collection.
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