The reasons for me spending my Sunday night tucked up in bed watching ‘The Jungle Book’ are threefold. First of all, the release of the trailer for Jon Favreau’s upcoming live-action remake – which I actually broke my trailer ban for – got me reminiscing about how much I loved the original. From that, we at JumpCut UK were inspired to start a little Disney debate on Twitter last week, which saw ‘The Jungle Book’ come second to the people’s champion, ‘The Lion King’. Lastly, and regrettably, I had fallen ill, and the idea of watching my favourite childhood film tucked up in bed gave me a surprising amount of comfort.
This classic animated tale, I imagine, does not require too much explanation to most people; if you don’t know the story of ‘The Jungle Book’ then I have to question what kind of childhood you had. But for the depraved amongst us, our leading protagonist is a young boy named Mowgli. Discovered as a baby, deep in the jungle, by Bagheera, a fretful black panther, Mowgli is raised by wolves and the jungle becomes his home. When the time comes, Bagheera is keen to escort Mowgli back to the man village, especially with the evil tiger, Shere Khan, baying for the boy’s blood. But a defiant Mowgli, along with his new friend, a care-free bear named Baloo, are determined to remain in the jungle.
In terms of characterisation, ‘The Jungle Book’ still to this day has some of the most likeable and entertaining animated characters. Nearly 50 years on, and Baloo still made me laugh with his hippy, laid back approach to life, King Louie’s jazzy recital of “I wanna be like you” was as infectious and uplifting as the first time I heard it, and Shere Khan’s devilish purr remains one of the most recognisable and chilling vocals in the Disney armoury. Side note, Shere Khan also sounds exactly like Benedict Cumberbatch, that is all. I think a lot of the charm about these characters comes from the voice actors, in particular Kaa, the serpent with ambitions of turning Mowgli into a meal. Even side characters, such as the parade of elephants, or the quartet of vultures towards the end, all bring something to the plot and are definitely entertaining. Disney are the masters of characterisation, and whilst they rarely fail, they rarely achieve the kind of perfection on show here.
I mentioned King Louie’s funky little tune, but you can’t discuss Disney songs without mentioning “The Bear Necessities”. This song epitomises everything that is great about ‘The Jungle Book’; it’s silly and clever at the same time, which results in a LOT of fun. The plot concept beautifully brings together the animal world, which Walt Disney was obviously very fond of, and the human world. More specifically, animal and child, in a fantastic role reversal which we are scarcely treated to. How wonderful it was as a young boy to watch Mowgli embrace the animal kingdom; I mean, who doesn’t wish they could have been raised by wolves and lived in the jungle with Baloo? Maybe it was just me, but I still remember the manner in which this film captured my imagination as a child. If I had to throw one criticism at this beloved classic, it would be that the climactic scenes, where Shere Khan finally meets Mowgli, are rather abruptly resolved. But hey, films were shorter back then.
It’s fair to say that pretty much any Disney movie is going to be a fine choice for a family night in, but there’s something about ‘The Jungle Book’ which, for me, makes it the most fun and entertaining of the lot. I think it’s actually a combination of a few things; with an exciting setting, wonderful characters and an incredibly lively collection of songs. This isn’t the kind of family film you get these days, where the humour works on two levels to please children and adults alike. No, this works on one, very simple level and that is: forget that you’re an adult for just 88 minutes, have a sing and a dance, and just enjoy yourself. I say that, but then here I am, sat writing this review 18 hours later and I’m still whistling “The Bear Necessities”.
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Starring: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders