The Jungle Book (1967)    3 Stars

“The Jungle is JUMPIN’!”

The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book (1967)


Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima

Synopsis: Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear have a difficult time trying to convince a boy to leave the jungle for human civilization.

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Although The Jungle Book, Disney’s loose adaptation of a 19th Century collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling, places man-cub Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, son of the movie’s director, Wolfgang) centre stage, he makes something of an insipid hero. He’s got spunk, for sure, but he merely trips through the Indian jungle from one peril to another, mostly ignorant of the danger he’s in and passively waiting for the likes of Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot – Black Patch) and Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) to rescue him. It’s probably Baloo we remember best – and those capering monkeys (but – sssh! – modern sensibilities means we’re no longer permitted to view those critters in a favourable light) – because he is one seriously cool bear. Harris seems to be going for a sort-of laid-back beach bum persona with Baloo, while his rich, relaxed voice somehow seems to be a mash-up of Robert Mitchum and John Wayne.

The Jungle Book was made in 1967, so the film is filled with 60s slang which was hip back then but sounds a little antiquated to 21st Century ears. The tunes remain memorable, though, in particular the show-stopping I Wanna Be Like You which always seems to be overlooked in favour of The Bare Neccessities. That’s a great song, too, but it doesn’t make you want to get up and dance the way that the former song does. The storyline’s a little episodic, thanks to the source material, and some of the characters don’t work – four vultures, sort-of based on The Beatles, who make a late appearance, really don’t fit in very well with the rest of the cast, although Kaa the Snake (Sterling Holloway – The Three Caballeros, A Walk in the Sun) and Shere Khan (George Sanders – Rebecca, All About Eve) make deliciously silky villains. It’s all good fun, and the songs at least are guaranteed to hold the attention of even the youngest of kids.

(Reviewed 13th January 2015)

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