The Jungle Book is one of those movies that we seem to remember in glimpses. We know the musical numbers and all the characters, but unless we’ve seen it as an adult, we can’t quite remember exactly what happens.
But we know it’s iconic. We know it’s a Disney classic. However, this film may have benefitted from being a tad bit longer. There are too many characters we’d love to see more of and so many chances to build up the depths of our leads.
Although I do like this movie a great deal for nostalgia’s sake, I wouldn’t constitute it as one of Disney’s best. The songs are top notch, and the characters are memorable, but it’s missing a lot of heart compared to the studio’s gems of the same era.
When Mowgli leaves his wolf family at the beginning of the film, there is no heartfelt goodbye. These are the creatures who raised him, and he barely bats an eye as Bagheera leads him on his way to the “man village” to escape the tiger, Shere Khan, who’s trying to kill him. And without giving anything away, there are also a couple of key scenes towards the end that should have given us a little more sentiment.
Baloo and Bagheera’s ambivalence doesn’t match the emotions of the audience, which may leave a sour taste in our mouths.
Which leads me to the voice of Mowgli. The kid playing him has no feeling or emotion. It sounds as though he’s simply reading the lines (or having them read to him) straight off the paper. It’s our main character, and his voice lacks any true conviction.
Granted, this was released in 1967, a year that marks, for many, the beginning of Disney’s “dark period”. It’s still a beloved movie, and rightfully so. It’s filled with some iconic scenes. The one with King Louie, for example. It’s so good, you wish you had been treated with just a few more glimpses of the antihero.
The overall journey feels cut short, but the narrative is tighter because of it. The villain doesn’t become overdeveloped and postponing his debut until later on makes him even scarier.
It’s the darker, more twisted, tone that drives this film the most between the catchy musical sequences. It encompasses the jungle-feel very precisely, and transcends through from Rudyard Kipling’s original source material, despite Walt trying to prevent it. Everywhere Mowgli turns, there’s someone out to kill him.
The story at hand is poetic. Shere Khan’s fear is exactly what will eventually turn Mowgli into what he fears. The villain hates “man” because of their ability to use guns and fire. He tries to track down Mowgli to kill him, even though he was raised by wolves and doesn’t posses fire or firearms, but the tiger doesn’t want to take that chance. This forces Mowgli’s caretakers to lead him to a human village to live with the humans, undoubtedly teaching him the very abilities that Shere Khan doesn’t want him to have. Love it.
I actually love The Jungle Book. It’s one that I watched often as a kid and one that still makes me smile as I watch it as an adult. Luckily, this film won’t face many new critics as mostly everyone has seen it by the time they are old enough to care. That’s one of the beautiful things about these old epitomes of animation.