The Jungle Book, the first Disney Animation Studios feature to release after Walt Disney’s death, still involved Walt quite a bit during its production. The movie is based on a series of stories by British author Rudyard Kipling collected in The Jungle Book (and its sequel, The Second Jungle Book). The source material is a lot darker than the movie eventually became, and the first couple drafts of the movie matched the original in plot and tone. Walt wanted a more family friendly film, and that’s what eventually released.
The result was an instant success, both financially and critically. The movie’s soundtrack received critical acclaim, most of which was written and composed by the Sherman Brothers. The movie earned $23.8 million worldwide on its first release on a budget of $4 million, and has since increased that profit almost tenfold. It also spawned a straight to video sequel, three live action remakes (Jungle Book in 1996, The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story in 1998 and 2016’s Jungle Book), and there’s a sequel to 2016’s in the making. There are also a couple different kinds of video games.
After re-watching The Jungle Book, I can see why it’s well-regarded. The core soundtrack is kind of groovy, yet it sounds like it kind of belongs in the Indian jungle at the same time. The songs are well-varied, from the fun military tune “The Elephant Song” to the creepy “Trust In Me”. The two most famous songs are “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”, which both made it into 2016’s live action remake.
The story follows Mowgli, a human orphan “man cub” who was raised by wolves in the jungles of India. The story is that Share Khan, a tiger, hates man and has learned the wolves are taking care of a man cub. The wolves, along with the panther Bagheera, decide to send Mowgli back to the man village, even if he wants to stay in the jungle. What follows is a series of adventures where Mowgli meets Baloo, a friendly and kind of lazy bear, is almost eaten by a giant snake with hypnotic abilities, and is eventually found by Share Khan. A lot happens in this movie, but in the end, not much of it is connected outside of following Mowgli’s adventures.
It’s a fun movie, but when some people today say it’s not really about anything, they’re kind of right. There are no significant themes in the story. Most of Mowgli’s adventures in the movie are unconnected. There are emotional moments sure, like when Baloo seemingly sacrifices himself to save Mowgli, but apart from that it’s just a fun adventure. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you.
As usual in preparation for this post, I also watched the 2016 live action remake. I didn’t watch the 1994 live action because 1, it’s more based on the original book than this animated feature is, and 2, watching three movies for one of these posts is a bit much when I’ve already got 56 animated movies to get through. I also didn’t watch the 1998 straight to video sequel for the same reasons, plus it’s apparently not very good. I may watch the 1996 movie after this blog series is done though, because it was received well and it is supposed to be closer to the source material.
In any case, the 2016 live action movie is really good. It surprised me how good it is. It’s a fairly close adaptation to the animated classic, although it re-arranges a few things in the plot and connects them better. The CGI animation is fantastic, and they casted Mowgli well with a kid who performs a lot of the stunts himself. There are two significant changes though. One, the live action remake is actually about something. It explains that Share Khan is actually afraid of what Mowgli will become, especially when it comes to wielding fire. The snake’s scene explains a bit about how Mowgli got orphaned, which also ties into the movie’s themes. During the climax, Khan’s fears kind of come true, and for a brief moment even Mowgli’s wolf family is afraid. It’s a genius twist that not only gives the movie deeper themes, but it’s a subtle environmental message. Two, it changes the ending so that Mowgli ends up staying in the jungle.
My one complaint about the live action movie is that it goes a bit overboard with celebrity voice actors. There’s Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Scarlett Johannsen as Kaa (the snake) and Christopher Walken as King Louie of the monkeys. I get why a lot of these animated movies like to hire big name actors, but for the most part big name actors aren’t all that great at voice acting. Bill Murray is fine, but he could have easily been replaced by an experienced voice actor and Baloo’s character would benefit from it. There’s a reason why there are a bunch of people who specialize in voice acting – because they’re amazing at it. Walken works because he is the man, and Johannsen sounds appropriately creepy as the snake, but the other two characters would be better suited by experienced voice actors. Anyway, mini-rant over.
There’s not much else to say about The Jungle Book without spoiling the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it. The Jungle Book is a simple yet fun adventure story. I didn’t talk about the animation too much because it didn’t really innovate anything, but it’s still good. It’s very rare when a Disney movie of any era isn’t animated well. Kids will enjoy The Jungle Book, and adults who enjoy kid friendly adventure movies may enjoy this one as well. The same goes for the live action remake, which is a huge relief to say after Cinderella and Maleficent were both pretty bad. In fact I might recommend the live action Jungle Book remake over the original, and that’s a pleasant surprise to me. The songs are better in the original though.
Next up is the Aristocats, then Robin Hood, and then The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the last movie Walt Disney was ever involved with. I’m kind of worried about what comes after that, because I’m getting to the point where Disney’s animation department started going downhill and the company as a whole almost went bankrupt. This time round, they couldn’t blame their financial troubles on World War 2.