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20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Jungle Book’

The Jungle Book was the first Disney animated movie released after Walt Disney’s death in 1967. It is also the last movie he personally oversaw (though he did approve The Aristocats, the studio’s next animated feature). This gives The Jungle Book important historical significance in the history of the company. The film is based on Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories about a young boy named Mowgli who is raised by animals of the jungle. It utilizes elements that had proven successful for Disney over the years such as a fresh take on a classic story, music, and memorable characters.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Sword in the Stone’

Rather than closely adapting Kipling’s stories, Walt Disney was more interested in telling a new version. Though many of the characters exist in the original stories, new ones appear in the Disney version such as King Louie, for example. Writer Bill Peet, who had worked on other Disney films of the era, took the reins and wrote a screenplay that captured more of the dark and sinister qualities of the novel, much to Walt’s disappointment. After arguments between the two artists, Peet left the studio and Walt put together a new story team that included legendary animators such as Floyd Norman.

After the departure of Bill Peet, it was decided they would need to go a new direction for the music. Terry Gilkyson had already written some songs for the project but, like Bill Peet, had gone a darker direction than Walt was comfortable with. In the end, the songwriting duties were given to the Sherman Brothers. Since The Sword in the Stone, they had seen great success with other Disney projects, most notably Mary Poppins. Most of the songs in the final film were written by the Sherman Brothers. However, “The Bare Necessities”, perhaps the best-known song from the film, was written by Gilkyson.

For The Jungle Book, the animation process was slightly different than usual. Most of the time, animators were in charge of specific characters but for this film, they were instead in charge of whole sequences. The Xerox process, used in the two previous Disney films, was employed here as well. The Jungle Book has been cited by many future animators as the film that inspired them when they were young and the animation in the movie is indeed quite beautiful.

The Jungle Book is a great film on its own but is perhaps made even greater when looking at it as a culmination of Walt Disney’s storied career. Like Sleeping Beauty, it represents an impressive finale to his work in animation and storytelling.

Live-action remake: In 2016, Jon Favreau released a live-action remake of The Jungle Book. The film was praised for its innovative, photo-realistic technology and its updated story beats. Released near the beginning of the wave of Disney live-action remakes, this film still stands as one of the best in recent years. Favreau would go on to use this same technology in his remake of The Lion King, and the technology is to be used again with the upcoming remake of Bambi. A sequel is also in development, with Favreau returning to the director’s chair.

The Jungle Book in the theme parks: There are no Jungle Book themed rides, but there are a few attractions and restaurants scattered throughout the various parks that tie into the film. Characters also sometimes make appearances.

Sequel: In 1969, two years after the first film, a sequel of sorts was released. More Jungle Book… Further Adventures of Baloo and Mowgli was released on storybook and vinyl via Disneyland Records. This release featured a new story and new songs, some even written by The Sherman Brothers. Original voice actors Phil Harris and Louis Prima also lent their voices to the project. However, in 2003 an official sequel, The Jungle Book 2 was released to theaters. Of all of the sequels produced by DisneyToon, The Jungle Book 2 was only the second (and would be the last) to be released theatrically. This film picks off right after the original left off. For more details, check out my discussion of the movie here.

The Jungle Book on stage: Disney Theatrical Licensing has adapted a short, musical version of the film for young performers. Titled The Jungle Book KIDS, it features the original songs and is intended for local schools and community theatres to produce.

Spin-offs: In 1990, Disney Channel began aired an original animated show called TaleSpin as part of the Disney Afternoon lineup. This show featured several characters from The Jungle Book including Baloo, Shere Khan, and Louie. Though these familiar characters are featured, the story has virtually nothing to do with The Jungle Book, taking place in a different setting and with many different characters. However, an animated prequel of The Jungle Book called Jungle Cubs aired on ABC in the late 1990s, focusing on younger versions of the characters from the film. Two other live-action adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s stories were released in the 90s’ as well, though neither are at all related to the original 1967 film, nor its live-action remake.

The Jungle Book is currently available to stream on Disney+.

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