The Jungle Book
Mowgli, a human boy raised by wolves, is in danger because the tiger Shere Khan wants to kill him. It is up to Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear to convince the man-cub to return to human civilization, but Mowgli just wants to stay in the jungle and have fun.
The Jungle Book was the last film that Walt Disney worked on before his death in 1966. It was the first in a long string of animal-themed films throughout the 70s and early 80s; the next film with human protagonists was The Black Cauldron in 1985. (Although I suppose you could count Christopher Robin from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, or Penny in The Rescuers…but they aren’t really the main heroes, now are they?) I know that I saw it several times as a child, but it was never a favorite. In fact, before re-watching it I didn’t remember all that much about it.
It’s a very episodic movie. Mowgli is hypnotized by Kaa. Insert song. Mowgli meets Baloo. Insert song. Mowgli meets King Louie. Insert song. And so on. I guess this is largely because the stories on which the film is based are likewise very episodic? (I’ve don’t believe I’ve ever read The Jungle Book so I’m not sure on that point.) It’s strange. Some of these little episodes are very memorable, like “Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” – the latter, so much so that I was shocked that King Louie didn’t play a much larger role in the film. But I had completely forgotten about the vulture-barbershop-quartet and Kaa’s song.
Man, the songs in this movie are catchy. The Elephant Patrol marches are fun, while “The Bare Necessities” is a celebration of the relaxed life. They went through a lot of changes, though; originally, songwriter Terry Gilkyson wrote several songs for The Jungle Book, but Disney thought they were too dark so they were tossed out. Only “The Bare Necessities” survived. The other songs were written by the Sherman Brothers, and were intentionally lighter in tone. The vultures’ number, “That’s What Friends Are For” was originally a rock ‘n’ roll song, meant to be sung by the Beatles. (Really – their manager arranged for it, but neglected to tell the band. When John Lennon found out, he absolutely refused to sing for a Disney film.) While the Beatles’ signature hairstyle remained on the birds, the song was rewritten for a barbershop quartet.
But I just couldn’t get into the movie. I’m not sure why. Granted, animal stories are never my favorite – anyone glancing through the movies I’ve already reviewed can figure that out right quick. Maybe it’s just the fact that Mowgli never really develops much of a personality besides being stubborn and playful. Or maybe it’s the lack of a strong villain…Kaa isn’t a convincing threat (he’s the same voice as Pooh for cryin’ out loud) and Shere Khan doesn’t have enough screen time to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. (But wow, LOVE Shere Khan’s voice. He sounds so badass. Why wasn’t there more Shere Khan??)
Strong points are the music and the animation, which is pretty entertaining. I mean, there’s a reason so much of it was cribbed for Robin Hood a few years later.