New Movies: The Jungle Book

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What do you think of Kipling?

I don't know. I have never Kippled.

— Victorian joke

Judging from The Jungle Book, the last film he personally supervised, Walt Disney never Kippled either. Hardly a line is left of the stories about Mowgli, the Indian "man-cub" who was raised by animals. Like Disney's other adaptations of children's classics, The Jungle Book is based on the Kipling original in the same way that a fox hunt is based on foxes. Nonetheless, the result is thoroughly delightful.

The reasons for its success lie in Disney's own unfettered animal spirits, his ability to be childlike without being childish. In his Jungle safari, he obviously aimed for the below-twelve market by stuffing his scenario with pratfalls and puffing it with the kind of primitive tunes that can be whistled through the gap left by a missing front tooth.

Mowgli in his latest incarnation is a rather engaging and innocent little boy, more like a cub scout than a cub. As al ways, a zooful of imaginative animals prowls off with the picture. A herd of blimpish elephants looks like a collective reincarnation of Dumbo, while Shere Khan, the fastidious tiger with the voice of George Sanders, is a sly, urbane villain. The snake (vocalized by Sterling Holloway) displays the most imaginative use of coils since the invention of the Slinky toy.

Disney's last live-action features, such as The Happiest Millionaire (TIME, Dec. 15), cast doubt on his ability as a film maker. But in the area of the animated film, he unquestionably remained supreme to the end. The Jungle Book may be a perverse introduction to Rudyard Kipling, but it is the happiest possible way to remember Walt Disney.