The Jungle Book (1967)

I just want to start this post off by letting you know that I’ve been humming “Bare Necessities” to myself almost nonstop since watching this film.  That song will not go away

I recently watched the latest live-action The Jungle Book adaptation released by Disney and really liked it.  Although I was comparing it in my mind to the animated version, I had to admit it had been many years since I watched it.  I was fairly sure I remembered most of it, but like so many other things, remembering something in parts is far different than remembering something as a whole.

The Jungle Book, like so many other Disney films released around this time, is comprised primarily of a series of vignettes, short, memorable scenes that can easily stand out in a child’s mind.  Unlike earlier Disney movies, I remembered The Jungle Book as continuing the trend set by films such as 101 Dalmatians in so much as the vignettes all help propel the overall story.

Turns out my memory isn’t as sharp as I thought.

The basic plot of the film revolves around Bagheera, a shrewd yet short-tempered black panther, escorting Mowgli back to the man village,after the young “man-cub” spent the first ten years of his life being raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves.  Along the way Mowgli meets a host of jungle characters, interacting with each in his own unique way before ultimately returning to the man village where, it is said, he rightfully belongs.

Pretty basic, right?

The characters Mowgli meets along the way are all unique and interesting.  We see Kaa, the enigmatic, hypnotizing boa constrictor, and King Louis, the man-loving orangutan who wants the secret of man’s red fire.  They’re all fun, but none is more fun than Baloo, the easy-going bear who teaches Mowgli the point of enjoying life.

Baloo is adorable and fun, and he sings “Bare Necessities”, so you can’t help but love him.  He’s one of the only characters Mowgli meets who doesn’t want something from him, making him all the more endearing.

This is a stark contrast to the villain of the film, the bloodthirsty, man-hating tiger Shere Khan.  What’s interesting is that while Khan is supposed to be the most feared creature in the jungle, and Mowgli’s number one hater, he has a remarkably small part in the film. His name is mentioned only once before his appearance, and he isn’t shown on-screen until close to the end of the film.

The culmination of the film consists of a fairly lukewarm battle between Khan and Baloo, with the film ending as Mowgli ties a lit branch to Khan’s tail, causing him to flee.

Khan is gone, but Mowgli must still return to the village.  He sees the village from afar and doesn’t want to go… that is, until he sees a young girl gathering water.

She bats her eyes at him and he follows after her like a puppy without a single backward glance.

Now, I like the film overall, but I do have my fair share of problems with it as well.

-Mowgli will literally follow anyone that sings to him.  Kaa, the elephant parade, Baloo, Louis, the vultures, and the little girl.  Every single one sings a song, and he dutifully follows along. In fact, the only two characters who don’t sing to him, Bagheera and Khan, are the only two he has any sort of confrontation with.  This kid is the reason our parents had to tell us not to get into vans with strangers who offer us candy.

-If Khan is gone, why does Mowgli have to go back to the man village?  He didn’t want to leave the jungle, and he’s survived the most dangerous part of his life out there.  From here on out life will only get easier, yet he’s forced back into man’s world.  Given that this film came out in the late 60’s, I can’t help but wonder if this was Disney’s subtle commentary on where a man’s rightful place is:  in proper society, not gallivanting out in the wild.

-Mowgli is ten years old. Would a young girl batting her eyelashes at him really be enough to cause him to become love-struck?

-In that same vein, why is he such a little jerk that he walks away from Bagheera and Baloo five minutes after they just saved his life, without a word?  These guys just risked their own lives for you kid, you could at least say goodbye. Ungrateful little brat.

Is The Jungle Book a good movie?  By the standards of the time, yes.  It doesn’t quite hold up as well as I might have thought, and quite honestly I felt that the recent live-action adaptation was more compelling and fully realized than the animated version, and frankly, just better overall.  I don’t often say that, as I’m generally a Disney purist and like my stories in their original animated format.  The Jungle Book is good for what it is, but Disney definitely told a better story with their most recent endeavor.  Still, that version wouldn’t exist without the much beloved characters from the animated version (and the earlier Rudyard Kipling stories which inspired the film in the first place), so for that reason I can’t help but appreciate this film.


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