Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Most of us are familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (published in 1894) which tells the story of a young boy - Mowgli, raised by wolves in the jungles of Central India and of his fight against the fearsome tiger, Sher Khan, as well as the battle within himself as he searches for his true identity.
Despite being a children’s classic, the book addresses complex and mature themes
Despite being a children’s classic, the book addresses complex and mature themes - loyalty, family, friendship, imperialism, hierarchy, the importance of rules (the Jungle Code), coming of age and identity struggles.
To translate this book into a family-friendly, comedic film, without watering down its key messages, was always going to be a challenge. But Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967), directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, executes this perfectly.
The importance of friendship is explored through the mentorship of Mowgli by a funny, friendly, loveable, easy-going bear - Baloo. As Baloo teaches Mowgli the ways of the jungle, we warm to their blossoming companionship. The duo also sing one of the most beloved Disney songs ever, “The Bare Necessities” (ranked 6 on our Top Ten Classic Disney Songs).
Of course, there is more - the catchy “I Wan’na Be Like You”, the cool "Trust in Me"...all combining to make The Jungle Book soundtrack one of the early examples of the music being its own compelling selling point at the box office.
Sher Khan, the menacing tiger, on the hunt for Mowgli, is clearly one of the best villains in a Disney film. Charming and manipulative, Sher Khan is the sense of darkness and evil in the film - in sharp counterpoint to Mowgli’s innocence and goodness.
Considering that The Jungle Book was only Disney’s 19th animated feature film, the animation itself was executed extremely well for its day - with a more stylistic approach that used straight-cut, rough edges in stark contrast to the rounder, more curved animation style of the animals seen in Lady and the Tramp (1955) or Dumbo (1941). This animation style and inspired use of colour effectively managed to set the jungle atmosphere that pulled this whole film together. From the opening scenes of the village and landscapes of the jungle, we already feel as though we are actually peering into ‘life in the jungle’.
This was the last film to benefit from the personal involvement of Walt Disney himself, who died at the end of 1966.