Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Disney's The Jungle Book

Walt Disney’s next film went deep into the jungles of India to tell a tale of a young boy raised by a pack of wolves. The Jungle Book brought us so many lovable characters including the “man-cub” Mowgli , Louie king of the Apes, and good ole papa bear, Baloo. This is truly one of my favorite Disney movies because the uniquely different personalities within the characters. Disney was surely a genius when he casted the voice actors. For the cast of the Jungle Book, Disney used familiar actors/singers like Phil Harris, Louis Prima, Sebastian Cabot, and George Sanders. Disney had used familiar voices to audiences before, but not as much as he did in the Jungle Book. It's funny both Phil Harris the voice of Baloo and Louis Prima, who voiced King Louie, would both go onto say that they are best known for lending their voices to the Jungle Book instead of all their other accomplishments.

The music though is what also really makes this film in my opinion. Who can forget the memorable songs of the Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You. Baloo was always moving to the music, feeling the groove. While King Louie had a swinging Dixieland jive-talking number. A fun background story to this song is the Sherman brothers (who began writing songs for Disney starting with 101 Dalmatians) were in charge of convincing Louis Prima a well known musician to take on the role of King Louie. He came in and listen to the Sherman brothers play King Louie’s song "I Wan’na be like You," and at the end of the song Prima said “ What are you trying to do, make a monkey out of me” The Sherman brothers said “yes that is exactly what we are doing”. Amused by this, Prima said “You got me”. Louie Prima brought along his band mates and began to monkey around. Here is a clip of them doing exactly that.
No one could ever say Disney didn't go out of it's way to make their movies unique and unforgettable.

Bill Peet went to Walt and declared that after doing The Sword in the Stone, they wanted to do something with more interesting animal characters. Peet offered the idea of adapting Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" and Walt agreed. Like with the last two films, Peet came up with the story himself, with little supervision from Walt. Walt stepped in after the original story was fleshed out and decided to voice his concerns. Peet had followed Kipling's novel very well in terms of the novel's dark nature and story about man's struggles with animals. It was too dark for Disney, who wanted a friendlier. light-hearted version, insisted that Peet change it. Peet refused and left Disney studios. Disney hired Larry Clemmons to take over as the writer and gave him a copy of Kipling's novel telling Clemmons, "the first thing I want you to do is not to read it." Clemmons looked at the book anyway and realized that it was a disjointed storyline without continuity. To fix this problem that he saw, Clemmons wanted to change a few things, most of all, applying in medias res (starting at the middle of a story and using flashbacks to explain the beginning. Think Kill Bill Vol. 2 or The Usual Suspects.). Disney disagreed and stated that he wanted a straight storyline, and also wanted Clemmons to stick to the meat of the picture and establish the characters.

Like they had done with Maleficent's character and her voice actor, the animators decided to make Shere Khan look a bit like his voice, George Sanders. Like in other Disney movies, animation was also basically reused; in this case, the wolf cubs are basically re-animated dalmatians. All the animals movements were based on real life animals, but especially Shere Khan's, being the least cartoon-ish of the characters. Another fun fact about the animation is the dance that King Loiue and his monkey friends do is based off of Louis Prima and his bandmates performance at their audition.

Something I always thought was interesting was the fact that the Beatles could have been part of the movie. It was a long shot, but it could have happened. Disney came up with the idea of having the vultures based off the Beatles and voiced by them too. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, thought it was a great idea, but didn't clear it with the boys first. Once John Lennon found out, he vetoed the decision and the Beatles would not be a part of The Jungle Book. This didn't stop Disney from making the vultures look and act like the Beatles however, giving them the trademark mop-top haircut (sort of) the Beatles incidentally weren't wearing anymore as they had phased the mop-top look out for Sgt. Pepper's.

The original Jungle Book story is much more segmented then the movie version. In fact, Mowgli goes back to the man-village several times in the book. Also, the story of Mowgli being kidnapped by a bunch of monkeys (sorry, no King Loiue in this version.) is told after the story of Mowgli fighting Shere Khan with Bagheera and Baloo, making it a prequel story of sorts. One cannot argue with Clemmons wanting to start the movie in the middle. The book includes many more characters that don't make it into the movie such as Chil the Kite (it's a bird, not the toy.), Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the Mongoose, and Boldeo the hunter. Kaa is also a good guy in the books, as he helps rescue Mowgli from the monkeys.

A bitter part of the release of The Jungle Book in theaters during 1967 was that Walt Disney was not there to see it. Disney had died ten months earlier of lung cancer. The Jungle Book was the last movie he worked on before his death. The movie was a success in theaters, making 13 million in it's domestic earnings on it's first go around. The movie succeeded due to it's musical numbers, but Walt's death probably had something to do with it too. I think everyone wanted to see the last thing that Walt Disney had a hand in. Walt's death surely effected how critics viewed the film, almost all of them giving the movie rave reviews. It wasn't undeserved praise either. The Jungle Book was and is a great animated film with fantastic musical numbers. It's one of my favorite of all the Disney films and I'm sure it's other people's too.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know who played the voices of the monkeys that kidnapped Mowgli (before the King Louie scene)? I can't find that information anywhere. One of the voice actors sounds very familiar.