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4/18/16

THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) - REVIEW


As Disney once again attempts a live-action version of its own 1967 masterpiece based on Rudyard Kipling's classic story, I take a look back at the original The Jungle Book.

Growing up, this was one of my favourite old Disney films along with Alice In Wonderland and Robin Hood and, to this day, it remains one of the best. Right off the bat, the opening titles show off beautiful drawn depictions of the titular jungle and an excellent, timeless score. What follows is the tale of Mowgli, a human child raised by wolves who is led by panther Bagheera (voiced by Sebastian Cabot) towards the human village so he can be protected from the evil tiger Shere Khan, who has returned to the jungle and who famously hates Man.

Along the way, a reluctant Mowgli shows he can't really look after himself as a run-in with hypnotist snake Kaa (Sterling Holloway) almost ends very badly for the "man-cub" and he is later kidnapped by monkeys. He meets friendly, lazy bear Baloo who takes him under his wing and teaches him to relax and enjoy life without a care in the world. Unfortunately, he too proves incapable of truly protecting the child and the problem persists.

The reason Shere Khan is still one of the all-time best Disney villains is the build-up which precedes his first appearance in the movie as everyone talks about him in hushed tones, terrified at the idea that he might be around. Even the wolves organise a council meeting to discuss the threat! Plus George Sanders is smooth, cool and creepy as hell in the role. The rest of the voice cast is terrific from a show-stealing Louis Prima as King Louie to Phil Harris as Baloo and the songs are all fantastic.

Some of the best moments in the film come during the songs, which are a treat from start to finish, but there are also other, more subtle moments which add weight to the film. This includes Baloo's courageous fight with Shere Khan which could have possibly led to the saddest moment in Disney history, the vultures cheering Mowgli up and the bittersweet ending. Looking back, if I was to nitpick, I'd say we could have probably done without the elephants: they essentially contribute very little to the film.

The Jungle Book is seen as a masterpiece for a reason: the animation is stunning, the characters are instantly loveable, the music is flawless and it's just packed with charm, joy and heart, something no version of the story after that has managed to capture on such a high level.

Yup, still a classic.

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