The Jungle Book (1967 USA)

film 5The combination of cast, roles, and music never worked as well on any Disney film from the classic era as it did, here. The great voices of Disney feature films are all present, and they all define their characters in an unforgettable way. It gets by on charm, which it has a considerable supply of. Sebastian Cabot, Phil Harris, George Sanders, J. Pat O’Malley, Sterling Holloway, and especially Louis Prima make their animated avatars come to brilliant life in this film, well-adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s book.

In watching all the Disney animated features, from Snow White to The Emperor’s New Groove, it’s hard to find another film in which the voice actors gave such life to the characters they were portraying. Even Monsters Inc. doesn’t surpass this. It might sound a little corny, but the reason that Monsters Inc and Toy Story couldn’t surpass this film is because of the songs involved. The scores for the Pixar films were typical Randy Newman crap, with no real personality to be fixed to the characters. In this film, we have three fantastic, character-driven songs: “Trust In Me” (Sterling Holloway), “Bear Necessities” (Phil Harris), and “I Wanna Be Like You” (Louis Prima). These are powerful, driving songs that not only advance the plot, but establish the characters singing them.

Even though he didn’t have a whole song to himself, George Sanders’ booming voice lent a beautiful close to “That’s What Friends are For.” If the singing is good, the acting is better. I wish Disney had made greater use of the operatic voice of Sebastian Cabot, who is in perfect feline characterization as Bagheera the sleek panther (my favourite character). Phil Harris was a Disney bear in this movie as Baloo, and again in “Robin Hood” six years later as Little John. The animals are the bulk of this movie; Mowgli could have been any competent child actor, but only Sterling Holloway could have voiced Kaa,(the sinister hypnotic snake) in that way. I think George Sanders steals the show as the frightening and intimidating tiger Shere Khan. He is one of the best Disney villains ever. He is beautifully drawn, with all the beauty and colour that real life big cats contain.

The character who may make the biggest impact is Louis Prima as King Louie of the apes. King Louie is an unbridled, over-the-top character who has probably the greatest complexity of any character in the film. He’s ambitious, sneaky, but also simple, and the audience gets the feeling that he’s mainly dangerous because he just doesn’t think. I love many of the old Disney animated films (up to “Lion King”, but not after), and I believe that ‘The Jungle Book’ is the absolute best of the bunch. If there’s one criticism it’s how episodic the whole thing is. Introducing a great villain like Shere Khan three quarters of an hour in is quite a novel feat, but other characters are picked up and dropped throughout. And just as the film begins to wind down, we get some vultures with mock Liverpudlian accents that parody the Beatles.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review of one of my all-time favourite Disney films! 😀 Will this year’s live action remake hold up to this masterpiece in animation? Only time will tell…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. As always, I appreciate you’re support – and good taste! 🙂

    Like

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