Twitter Plot Summary: Mowgli, the man cub, tries to find his place in the world, all the while trying to avoid the machinations of Shere Khan, King Louie and Kaa.
Adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book is the story of “man cub” Mowgli, a human boy abandoned in the jungle and raised by a family of wolves. As he grows up he is befriended by panther Bagheera and the carefree bear Baloo. Undergoing a few adventures as he crosses the jungle, Mowgli has to contend with snakes, orangutans, vultures, a parade of elephants and a vengeful tiger.
While The Jungle Book is entertaining, it does feel like a transitional period for the Disney animation studio, reusing frames of animation (although not to the same extent as The Sword in the Stone) and lacking some of the magic that defined their output throughout the previous era. It also didn’t help that this was the first of their animated classics to be released following the death of Walt Disney himself, although it performed incredibly well at the box office on release. There’s not much of a story either, it’s more an exploration of growing up and finding your true place in the world, all linked by Mowgli’s thematic journey. Suffice to say, wherever he goes in the jungle he is always an outsider, so it’s understandable that Bagheera wants to get him back to his own kind where he might stand a chance of growing up and surviving in this mad, crazy world in which we live.
But despite any concerns about the animation style and relative lack of story, the cast is filled with great voice performances. Phil Harris will forever be known as Baloo, while Sebastian Cabot exudes wit and wisdom as Bagheera. George Sanders proved to be an excellent choice to play Shere Khan, the tiger planning on eating Mowgli. His enunciation is crisp and marks him out as being jungle royalty – whether this is actually the case or not is irrelevant. Then there is Sterling Holloway as Kaa, a duplicitous snake. It might prove to be confusing for those who have also watched Disney’s Winnie The Pooh films as he is also the voice of the titular Pooh. Thankfully, Pooh does not have an Arnold Rimmer style mesmer stare like Kaa, otherwise those films would have been completely different – and not quite so warm and cuddly either.
It is also a film heavily carried by its songs, many of which have since passed into classic territory and feature on almost every Disney song compilation released since. Alongside a significant contribution from the Sherman Brothers (including King Louie’s I Wanna Be Like You), Baloo’s The Bare Necessities never gets old. The vultures are a fun quartet as well, being modelled on The Beatles, although sadly the Fab Four didn’t provide their voices.
Such is the effect of The Jungle Book that Disney effectively transferred the cast and some of the characters over to their adaptation of the Robin Hood legend in 1973 (even going so far as to recycle certain elements as a cost saving measure), so it clearly did something right. It’s a fun romp through the jungle and through its themes and general sense of adventure is something that can be enjoyed by all ages.