|Jungle Book, The (Limited Issue)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 December 1999|
If you are of a certain age and temperament, chances are Disney’s 1967 animated version of ‘The Jungle Book’ made an indelible impression. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the movie in decades. When Phil Harris’ Baloo the Bear bursts into his paean to the ursine good life, "The Bare Necessities," in Chapter 10, you automatically start singing right along.
There have been quite a few screen adaptations of ‘The Jungle Book,’ which was originally a 19th-century text by Rudyard Kipling, an Englishman in India. The film leaves the darkest themes of the writing along with all of the Raj politics to concentrate on Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman), who is raised by wolves in the Indian forest. When Mowgli is 10, the wolves decide he must be brought back to human civilization for the sake of their safety and his own, for the dreaded tiger Shere Khan has returned and will surely kill the boy. Mowgli, however, wants to stay in the jungle. The film chronicles his adventures as he befriends various talking, singing denizens of the wild and ultimately confronts his adversary.
‘The Jungle Book’ was made back in the days when backgrounds didn’t move, but this is pretty well compensated for by the incredible character animation. You can practically hear the artists purring with triumph at the marvelously realistic yet somehow prim movements of Bagheera the black panther, or Baloo’s ecstatic, bearish back-rubbing antics. The characters are a wonderful combination of beautifully observed, lifelike animals and particular human traits, played enthusiastically by a cast that’s on the mark all the way through. Colors are brightly reproduced, though director Wolfgang Reitherman subtly and sensibly has the hues muted much of the time, as the characters are passing through underbrush and thus are technically in shadow.
Musically, ‘The Jungle Book’ runs toward Dixieland jazz in "Bare Necessities," with a bit of hotter tempo in Chapter 12’s "I Wanna Be Like You," plus a barbershop quartet effect in Chapter 19’s "That’s What Friends Are For." The sound reproduction on the DVD is good, with an unexpected warm quality of LP vinyl, minus any scratchiness. Harris’ mellow crooning on "Bare Necessities" is reproduced in a manner that lives up to childhood memories of the tune and Louis Prima’s rendition of "I Wanna Be Like You" sounds perfectly snazzy.
‘The Jungle Book’ will seem a bit quaint narratively as well as technically compared to today’s animated features. Certainly it lacks the mythological complexity of, say, ‘The Lion King.’ However, its sunny outlook, cheerful characters and lack of real violence (even Shere Khan lives, despite his baleful outlook) make it ideal for very small children - and also for grown-ups in need of a little stress relief and a smile.