The Jungle Book (1967) Review

The Jungle Book

Disney’s animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is often noted for being the last animated film produced by Walt Disney himself before his passing. Though hanging that sad bit of trivia over its head as the reason it stands out in the Disney pantheon may be a bit unjust, as there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy this musical animated adventure.

The Jungle Book tells the story of a boy named Mowgli, who was abandoned in the jungles of India as a baby, and has grown accustomed to living among the animals through the years, being raised by wolves and befriended by the panther Bagheera. However, Mowgli’s life in the jungle is changed forever when word of the vicious, human-hating tiger Shere Khan’s return to the jungle prompts the wolves to have Mowgli sent to the nearby human village, where he’ll be safe from Shere Khan’s wrath. Bagheera is assigned with escorting Mowgli out of the jungle, and along the way, they meet up with the lovable bear Baloo.

It really is a simple plot, and admittedly the recent live-action remake definitely adds a good deal of depth and character to the equation (Shere Khan’s entrance in the 2016 film is one of the better villain introductions in recent memory, while in this animated original he just kind of finds his way into the movie about halfway through). Despite its simplicity though, the 1967 film works in its own, different way.

The Jungle BookThe story is a bit looser here, as many animated films of the time were. Its episodic nature  working as a means to experiment with a wide variety of character designs and backgrounds, as many scenes in the film seem to be introducing new characters and scenarios that may deviate from the central plot, but provide undeniable entertainment nonetheless.

The Jungle Book features some of the best background animation Disney produced up to that point, and the various animals of the jungle certainly gave the animators an opportunity to have a lot of fun with the characters in both design and movements. Baloo seems to be in a perpetual state of dance and rarely slows down. Shere Khan displays mannerisms both regal and vicious. While the snake Kaa provides some fun visual gags with how his coils act like arms.

It isn’t just how the characters are animated though, but the characters themselves are very enjoyable. Bagheera and Baloo have humorously contrasting personalities, despite both serving as Mowgli’s guardians. Bagheera being responsible and uptight, and Baloo fun-loving and perhaps a bit dimwitted. King Louie is an eccentric orangutan who wishes to be more like a human (leading to the film’s best song). Shere Khan is an effectively despicable villain. There’s a herd of militant elephants who aren’t quite as organized as they like to let on. And there’s even a group of vultures who parody the Beatles.

The Jungle BookThere’s just a whole lot of fun to be had with these characters, and they’re complimented by some of the best songs Disney produced during the film’s era: The Bare Necessities is probably the most famous from the movie, while the aforementioned song that’s sung by King Louie, I Wanna Be Like You, probably deserves a mention in any discussion of the catchiest Disney tunes. The rest of the songs, while perhaps not as iconic, are nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable.

Simply put, The Jungle Book is just a very entertaining movie. It may lose sight of its central plot from time to time, and comparisons to the fancier 2016 remake kind of expose some of the areas in this animated original that could have been more fleshed out (for example, the wolves, despite being the ones who raised Mowgli as part of their family, are quickly written off in the animated version). But there’s no denying that the characters are immensely charming, the music is great, and the animation is equally so. Put it all together, and it’s no wonder why The Jungle Book has remained one of the more fondly remembered Disney animated flicks.




The Jungle Book (2016) Review

The Jungle Book

Disney’s 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book serves as a faithful tribute to both Disney’s 1967 animated version and the original Rudyard Kipling stories. The end result does both of its inspirations justice, with the end result being arguably the best film adaptation of The Jungle Book stories, not to mention a feast for the eyes.

Though The Jungle Book is the most recent in a string of Disney animation-to-live-action adaptations, there’s actually very little live-action in the film. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is the only live actor seen on-screen. Everyone else is a motion-captured animal, and even the environments are created through computers.

Turning The Jungle Book into a visual effects-heavy movie turned out to be a wise choice on Disney and director Jon Favreau’s part, as this is one of the most visually arresting films of recent years. The CG animals are some of the most believable to be put on screen, and you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking the film was shot in the jungles of India and not a studio in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the best thing about this Jungle Book is that, despite the stunning visuals, it also tells its story better than past adaptations. The story remains that Mowgli is a young human boy who was orphaned as an infant, and after being found by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), he was raised by a pack of wolves in the deep of the jungle, with a wolf named Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) serving as his mother.

The Jungle BookThough the wolves accept Mowgli as one of their own, and Bagheera becomes something of a protector to the boy, not every animal in the jungle embraces a human living among them. A tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who is feared by all other animals in the jungle, bears a deep hatred of humans. Shere Khan threatens the animals of the jungle that unless the boy is handed over to him, he will continue to kill. The wolves, not wanting to see anyone get hurt, reluctantly agree to send Mowgli to the nearest human village, which is the only place he’ll be safe from Shere Khan. Bagheera is assigned to escort Mowgli to the village, and along the way, they are accompanied by the lovable bear Baloo (Bill Murray).

It’s certainly familiar to anyone accustomed to the Kipling stories or the Disney animated feature, but the film is consistently entertaining, and the characters are given enough emotional depth to help it stand on its own. This is all the more emphasized by the performances of the actors.

The Jungle BookBen Kingsley, Bill Murray, and Idris Elba are all highlights of the film, and help bring a new sense of life to these classic characters. Smaller (but no less memorable) roles come in the forms of Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (Christopher Walken), who has been reimagined from an orangutan to a not-so-extinct gigantopithecus.

Between the fun and sometimes heartwarming story, and the performances, The Jungle Book becomes more than just a fancy visual effects movie, and instead is a story that is equal to the visuals that bring it to life. Just for good measure, we even get two songs from the Disney animated film brought back for good measure (“Baer Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You”), with a third (“Trust in Me”) showing up in the credits.

Though it may not boast many surprises, The Jungle Book is nonetheless a winning feature that’s as fun as it is beautiful to look at. It’s also the first of Disney’s recent sub-genre of animation turned live-action to live up to its potential. Though it may not be a coincidence that, aside from Mowgli, the film is primarily animated.