Director: Wolfgang Reitherman; Story: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson and Vance Gerry, from the stories by Rudyard Kipling
With the voices of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Louis Prima
Walt Disney Video
This animated film, the last to be supervised by Walt Disney before his death in 1966, falls in the gap between the two great periods of Disney cartoons. The graphic work is looser, less lush than in early masterpieces like Pinocchio, and the pace is a bit more laggard than in the 90s hits, including Aladdin, which The Jungle Book clearly influenced. The songs aren't exactly evergreens, though the clever rhymes and jaunty tone of "The Bare Necessities" stick to the mind. There's also a depiction of some of the jungle monkeys as the Beatles (with London accents and haircuts three styles too late) and others as blacks (Prima does a Louis Armstrong impression) that are ethnically iffy.
The movie takes the basic Disney kid-hero a child bereft of parents and stranded in the woods and does a twist. The Jungle Book's Mowgli is a boy, a "man cub," raised by wolves in the jungle by wolves and eager to stay there. A third-act romance means to propel the boy back to civilization, but the human world seems like Kansas to a child who's grown up in Oz. That's because the movie has winningly constructed the easy, avuncular friendship Baloo the Bear (voiced by Harris) has for Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, the director's son). Among the film's amiable animal caricatures, Baloo stands out.
Among the extras, five interactive video games will keep the kids occupied between their inevitable demands for Jungle Book rescreenings. For adult Disneyphiles, the strongest part of the package is 80s mins. of making-of documentaries, offering instructive footage of Walt imposing his vision (a.k.a. his will) on the team of artists. Interviews with Brad Bird, Andreas Deja and other top animators testify to the movie's influence on the medium's modern form.
Next 1408 (2007)