The Jungle Book (1967) Review

The Jungle Book Poster

“The Jungle Book” is a nice example of a lightweight Disney movie. The studio has done it’s fair share of movies that are sad, exciting, romantic, or frightening, and “The Jungle Book” isn’t really any one of those. It’s a laidback road trip movie that doubles as a comedy, and while it’s pretty sleight, it’s good for what it is.

I think “The Jungle Book” might also be the movie that best embodies the wandering, episodic storytelling Disney films used to employ for decades until the 1980’s. The plot is basically Mowgli (and to a lesser extent, his friends) wandering around the jungle, meeting it’s inhabitants and having bizarre, interlocking adventures until he arrives at the Man Village in the last couple of minutes. You can never quite be sure what will happen next, and while the plot is fairly random there is a direction to it with some characters appearing more than once (like Kaa and Colonel Hathi), and the largely off-screen villain, Shere Kahn, helping to drive the main conflict forward. It’s definitely a movie where the journey is more interesting and important than the destination.

“The Jungle Book” is also an interesting movie to discuss because I think it’s a rare film that peaks around the middle section rather than the third act. You know how every once in a while you have a good duo, but then you add a third person to it and you get this perfect trio who make every scene they’re in better with all the mad chemistry they have? “The Jungle Book” is like that.

Once Baloo is introduced at the start of the second act, the next twenty-seven minutes are Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera’s personalities bouncing off each other and the situations they find themselves in, and the dialogue simply crackles – especially when Mowgli gets kidnapped by monkeys. By the time Baloo and Bagheera go after him, Mowgli’s almost forgotten he wants to be rescued because he’s gotten so caught up in the jazz times, Bagheera’s attempts to save him are sabotaged by Baloo getting swept up into it as well, and Baloo in drag engages in a scat battle with King Louie. It’s amazing. Not to mention, the quiet and far more serious nighttime scene that follows where Bagheera manages to convince Baloo to actually be responsible for a change. By contrast, I think the weakest stretch of the movie is the twenty minutes Mowgli spends wandering the jungle alone before the climax, because while I like Mowgli, his character isn’t strong enough to carry a large chunk of the film by himself (though “The Jungle Book” is smart enough to also turn it’s attention towards the villains, Kaa and Shere Kahn, during this time).

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Mowgli is a young Indian boy, found by a panther and raised by wolves in the jungle for ten years. Mowgli has grown accustomed to his jungle life, and is very upset when he’s told he’ll have to leave behind the jungle forever and all his friends for his protection. Disney has had it’s share of sweet kid characters and awkward kid characters, but Mowgli is more of the bratty but well-meaning persuasion. Having grown up in the jungle, Mowgli is very stubborn and overconfident that he can survive in the wild – despite having little to no survival skills. He doesn’t hesitate to pick a fight and he even pimp-slaps a bear at one point (which he may or may not have learned from Bagheera). Rather tellingly, once he runs off from Bagheera and Baloo and once Kaa and Shere Kahn decide to stop toying with him, Mowgli gets overwhelmed by the jungle pretty quickly.

Since he’s not allowed to stay with his wolf family anymore (and he honestly forgets about them after a while), Mowgli spends much of the movie trying to find somewhere where he belongs. He tries to be an elephant and that doesn’t work out. He tries to be a bear and gets his feelings hurt. He trusts Kaa and almost gets eaten. He does a number with some vultures and almost gets eaten again (albeit not by them). It’s actually pretty sad watching Mowgli get his feelings repeatedly dashed and becoming more and more disillusioned with the jungle as the movie progresses, before he finally regains his friendship with Baloo in the climax. In the end, Mowgli decides to live in the nearby Man-Village, not because he feels he doesn’t belong in the jungle but humorously enough because the Man-Village has girls in it. Since “The Jungle Book” is a movie aimed at boys, it’s almost fitting that it would end with Mowgli discovering girls and having his first crush.

Disney has a lot of stuffy British characters, and Bagheera, I think, is the one of the first ones. Bagheera is the proud, stern but ultimately warmhearted black cat who discovers Mowgli when he’s a baby, and is tasked with being Mowgli’s guardian until the boy settles in the Man-Village (it helps that the panther seems to know everyone in the jungle). Bagheera takes his task very seriously, and tries to carry it out properly, but the black cat has quite a temper that sometimes gets the better of him. He also goes through quite a lot of slapstick in this movie.

It’s easy to see Bagheera as the strict but sensible uncle who’s a softy at heart and is tasked with wrangling kids for the first time. He tries to be the voice of reason in the trio and he’s easily the force grounding them, but he’s often either ignored by Mowgli or he goes too hard on the boy. It’s also worth noting that despite considering himself to be sensible and mature, Bagheera isn’t always as responsible as he thinks – like when he almost lets Mowgli get eaten by Kaa or how he gets frustrated and ditches Mowgli, Jimmy Cricket style, a few times. It keeps him from being perfect, and at times, makes him almost hypocritical. When Mowgli chooses to stay in the Man-Village because of Shanti, it isn’t the motivation Bagheera was expecting to get him to stay with his own kind, but he’ll gladly take it. Bagheera has a very strained relationship with Baloo, since he considers him to be a nuisance and a bad influence on Mowgli, and Baloo considers Bagheera to be a pompous killjoy, but the pair do bond a bit over the one thing they have in common – their love for Mowgli – and they seem to be on their way to becoming friends by the end of the movie.

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Baloo is easily the character with the most charisma in “The Jungle Book”, which is why he’s also the character who got his own spin-off series years later in “TaleSpin”. Baloo is a drifter and a jazz hipster who proudly and lazily coasts his way through life everyday, and on this particular occasion, the rustic, earthy, friendly bear coasts his way into Mowgli’s adventure. When Mowgli shows interest in being a bear, Baloo decides to show him the ropes, and after the two develop a strong friendship Baloo decides to adopt him as his own cub. The audience is already aware that this probably won’t work out since Baloo almost kills Mowgli twice a few minutes after meeting him, but Baloo still wants to give it a try.

I’ve often seen people say that while Mowgli is the protagonist, Baloo and Bagheera are the two most engaging characters in “The Jungle Book”, and this is certainly true, because while “The Jungle Book” is a movie about finding your place, it’s also a movie about the different types of parenting. A hard lesson Baloo learns is the importance of being responsible, and that he can’t always be the fun adult in Mowgli’s life. When Bagheera makes it clear Baloo can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Kahn the tiger, Baloo finds himself having to put Mowgli’s needs before his own and let the kid go. What’s more, since Baloo was the one who interfered with Bagheera’s task and got Mowgli’s hopes up, it has to be him who sets things back the way they were and break his promise to the kid. It goes about as well as you’d expect it to. Baloo ends up fighting Shere Kahn to give Mowgli enough time to defeat him, and they succeed, but Mowgli still winds up going to the Man-Village to romance girls. It deals quite a blow to Baloo, but one he can bounce back from though, since he only knew Mowgli for like two days anyway.

Colonel Hathi, a pompous, orderly pachyderm, and his herd of droll elephants turn up a few times and let’s just say they always make their presence known. The main joke with the colonel is that he’s a British elephant who treats his herd like a military troop and works them as such, including his annoyed, sardonic wife, though he does have a soft spot and strong paternal streak for his son – a plucky little elephant who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and make his dad proud of him. The elephants don’t actually contribute much to the plot and their scenes are somewhat slow, but “The Jungle Book” wouldn’t feel right without them in it. One bit of dialogue that’ll raise some eyebrows is Hathi’s sexist remark that he won’t have a female leading his herd. It’s strange because elephants in real life are a matriarchal species. I actually can’t tell if that’s the joke or if it’s the result of humans projecting their 60’s gender issues onto animals. You also have to wonder who put Hathi in charge of the herd in the first place, since the other elephants clearly don’t like him and spend most of their time talking about him behind his back.

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Winnie The Pooh and Tigger discussing the art of murder.

King Louie, the king of the jungle monkeys, only gets one scene but he makes the absolute most of it. He has a cool, chill attitude and jazz skills that rival Baloo’s (as the self-proclaimed king of the swingers), undercut by an ambitious and perhaps delusional desire to tame fire and become lord of the jungle. I actually wish we had seen more of him, because he seems like a really interesting figure that would make for a good side character and anti-villain.

The twisted and sinister python, Kaa, easily ranks up there with Jafar when it comes to Disney villains that can make you feel all kinds of uncomfortable. It’s partly because Sterling Halloway uses the exact same voice for Kaa that he did for Winnie the Pooh while giving it a twisted edge (take note, kids, Winnie the Pooh is only pretending to be friendly. Really he’s going to smother you with your pillow while you’re sleeping) and partly because Kaa has no sense of personal space. All the villains in this movie are pretty grabby with Mowgli, but Kaa is extremely grabby since he’s a predator and after a while his stroking gets pretty creepy. Kaa is easily defeated by some quick thinking from Mowgli when we first meet him, so the audience underestimates him later – in a way, he deceives us just like he deceives Mowgli when it comes to how much of a threat he is. Since he can’t get Mowgli (who knows about his hypnosis) to look him in the eyes, he wraps his coils around Mowgli’s head, blinding him, and when the man-cub tries to remove him Kaa makes his move: it’s a clever trick.

While Kaa is a dangerous enough hunter for even Bagheera to fear him, he’s not the biggest threat in the jungle. He’s dwarfed by the burly but sophisticated tiger, Shere Khan. In a movie filled with eccentric British characters (to the point where there are even vultures modeled after the Beatles), Shere Kahn stands out as a dry, evil Brit. It’s also worth noting that for the most part, Shere Kahn isn’t a funny guy. All the other antagonists in this movie at least have a comedic edge to them, but Shere Kahn’s threat to our heroes is played entirely straight and he’s a largely humorless foe. The tiger hates Man and Man’s weapons, and therefore has a vendetta against Mowgli simply for existing – wanting to make the defenseless boy his diner.

Something I like about the villains in this movie is how falsely affable they are. They’ll try to kill you, surely, but they’ll make conversation with you first. Most of the people Shere Kahn antagonizes, like Mowgli or Kaa, aren’t even a threat to him, so he does enjoy playing with his food. If you want to draw a parallel between the tiger and Mowgli, you could say that they both bit off more than they could chew by being overconfident. Thanks to a stroke of good luck, Mowgli defeats Shere Kahn with fire – something that had been repeatedly mentioned and foreshadowed throughout the movie. It can seem like a tame defeat at first, but when you think about it tying a flaming branch to a tiger’s tail – especially when he’s panicking – would most likely set that tiger’s fur coat on fire. Shere Kahn had better hope there’s a river nearby.

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The weakest aspect of “The Jungle Book” is easily the animation, to the point where I would say it holds the film back a bit. Disney’s dark age was really starting to set in at this point, with the studio no longer being able to afford the lavishing and extravagant touches of the golden and silver eras. The animation in “The Jungle Book” is very rough and unrefined, and at times can be quite stiff, like the the pan-in shot of Shere Kahn in the grass that opens the third act. There’s also a ton of reused animation. When it comes to xerox era / dark age Disney films, “The Jungle Book” is one of the ones where the shortcut of reusing animation is at it’s most noticeable. By the third act, you’ll start to get tired of that shot of Mowgli quietly walking around and sulking, along with that shot of Bagheera turning and leaping through the trees. The rustic, lush and foreboding jungle backgrounds are nice to look at though, and beautifully scenic.

The songs cover a surprisingly large spectrum of styles and genres for a jungle movie. The recurring theme, “Colonel Hathi’s March” is a fun, strident and straightforward introduction to the elephants with a memorable central melody. “The Bare Necessities” is endearingly silly and laidback, with a fine performance by Phil Harris and some great and surprisingly wild trumpet work. What starts as a relaxing life lesson from Baloo (with the odd near-death experience here and there) also starts to get pretty weird around the time Baloo starts scratching himself; at a certain point you’ll start to wonder if the songwriters were on drugs at the time.

“I Wanna Be Like You” is the culmination of the film’s jazzy jungle style and it’s very infectious, with it’s swinging lyrics and it’s gradually increasingly insanity. It also earns points from me for giving Phil Harris and Louis Prima a duet at the end. “Trust In Me” is alright; it’s a quiet, droning, hypnotic tune Kaa drawls to a sleeping Mowgli to put him entirely under his spell and a further testament to how competent Kaa is as an antagonist. “We’re Your Friends”, which the vultures sing to Mowgli, is easily the weakest song of the lot with blunt, unsubtle lyrics and an unimpressive chorus; it’s also the only song that feels like it’s there to fill a song quota. “My Own Home”, Shanti’s song, is a nice and a pleasing final song, with soothing vocals and soft instrumentals, though you have to wonder why Shanti is so flirty when she’s like ten.

“The Jungle Book” is a nice, light romp movie. It’s rough around the edges but it’s a worthwhile journey through a mysterious jungle featuring characters from all different walks of life.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

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* Other good duos that became perfect trios include the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory from “Doctor Who”, and Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock from “The Adventures Of Tintin”.

* Everyone knows Disney always makes a lot of changes when they adapt books into their movies. The changes in “The Jungle Book” were so large that Baloo and Bagheera actually swapped personalities.

* Bagheera sends baby Mowgli to go live with the wolves and assumes they won’t just eat him because of parental instincts. That could have gone horribly wrong.

* Have the wolves been feeding Mowgli enough? Because he looks awfully skinny.

* “I won’t hear anymore until the morning” “Heheh, he won’t be here in the morning”.

* Panther pimp slap.

* Considering most of Mowgli and Bagheera’s scenes before now have been the two of them bickering, this is a cute detail to include the following morning.

* “Hathi, I can explain” “Colonel Hathi, if you will” “Oh, yes, Colonel Hathi” Verbal jousting from two salty Brits.

* That is quite the elephant pile-up Colonel Hathi and his kid caused.

* “I’m big enough! Gah!” “Wow. Pitiful”.

* “They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him!” I had no idea Li Shang was in that village.

* “He’s with me, ain’t he? And I’ll learn him all I know” “Well, that shouldn’t take too long” Savage Bagheera is the best Bagheera.

* “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities! Forget about your worries and your strife! I mean the bare necessities, Old Mother Nature’s recipes, that brings the bare necessities of life!

* Who else flinches when that boulder lands on Baloo’s head? Baloo ought to be a dead bear.

* “BAGHEERA!!!

* “Let me go! Ahh! You cut that out!” They just did as you asked, Mowgli.

* “Now don’t try to kid me, mancub, I made a deal with you. What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dream come true! Now give me the secret, mancub, come on, clue me what to do. Give me the power of man’s red flower so I can be like you!

* “Take me home, Daddy!” Haha, make of that line what you will.

* “Man, that was one swinging party!” Bagheera is just so done with everything.

* “Baloo, you wouldn’t marry a panther would you?” “Well I don’t know. Come to think of it, no panther’s ever asked me” Heh.

* Through the power of Disney magic, Baloo and Bagheera’s black eyes and bruises are all healed up by the end of their chat.

* I like how Baloo considers being compared to Bagheera an insult. Considering Bagheera has been super salty for this whole movie, you can understand why.

* “Hold still please”.

* Well, that was a nice sight gag, and this is a nice, quiet threat.

* Shere Kahn, you liar.

* Thank goodness for dramatic thunder storms with perfect timing, or Baloo would be dead.

* Bagheera, where were you when the fight was going down?

* This is a nice parody of the cliched Disney death scene. The audience is let in ahead of time that Baloo’s not actually dead, so it loops around from being predictable to actually being pretty funny as Baloo lets Bagheera drone on.

* “What’s that?” “Forget about those, kid, they ain’t nothing but trouble” I like how you can see Baloo already starting to get jealous of this ten year old girl.

* This goodbye face is perfect.

* Baloo and Bagheera are gonna tell the elephants who are currently wrecking the jungle that they’ve already found Mowgli, right?

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

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8 Responses to The Jungle Book (1967) Review

  1. Pingback: The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh (1977) Review | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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  4. Paul Astell says:

    Great review! I agree, Bagheera and Baloo are a hoot, I love any scene they have together. This really is one of the strongest Xerox films, with some great music, backgrounds and likeable characters. I’d never noticed the pacing problem with the last act, but now you mention it I wonder how I missed it! The film does feel like it’s at its strongest in the middle.

    And I love the Shang joke haha, he’ll soon make a man out of Mowgli!

    (Just a small tip by the way: You may want to break your paragraphs up a little bit. I’m guilty of forgetting that too, but it just makes it easier on the eyes than reading big blocks of text).

    Liked by 1 person

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