The Jungle Book Review
Coming in 1967 as unfortunately the final film Walt worked on and the movie that sadly is the last of the classic era with Disney ushering in a long Dark Age afterwards, The Jungle Book is thankfully a masterpiece across the board and overall one of the finest movies ever for the studio.
We follow Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. Because the story is so incredibly good here, I will talk about each major plot point at least briefly. The beginning is nice with calm and authentic score that sets the mood perfectly for the film. But I have to say that the beginning is my least favorite part owing to its not so memorable approach and definitely a bit rushed pacing. But that it not to say it is bad, it as I said sets the mood appropriately, it introduces you to the characters wonderfully and it makes you intrigued for sure. But it quickly starts with the great stuff when Bagheera decides to take Mowgli to the man village in order to protect him from the villainous Shere Khan, a tiger lusting for human flesh. It shows the wolves in a very unique and positive light with them helping the protagonist and the interaction exhibited here between the two characters is excellent, showing you Bagheera’s caring and worrisome nature and Mowgli’s stubbornness right from the start.
Next we meet the snake Kaa who tries to eat Mowgli in a scene that is very entertaining and perfectly executed with a visually inventive approach. Later on, we meet the elephant patrol and I’ll talk later about each and every character individually in more detail, but let’s just say that the elephants are excellent comic reliefs, perfectly fitting into the perception of these animals and wonderfully taking a break from the main story arc. The whole prolonged sequence is a lot of fun thanks to strong characterization and simply superb humor. Afterwards, Baloo the bear is introduced and I will talk about him momentarily, but in short, he is the best character in the movie and his introductory sequence is one of the most purely fun and beautifully conceived scenes in the whole Disney canon.
Shortly after their friendly spent time, Mowgli is kidnapped by a group of monkeys with the orangutan King Louie as their leader intending to make Mowgli teach him how to make fire. That whole sequence is once again one of the highlights with thrilling action moments and spectacular music. And now we come to the quiet moment which comes at the perfect time in the film because we have just had two major dramatic scenes and this just eases it a bit, calms the mood before the next tension. And it just explored once again the characters of Baloo and Bagheera with them fighting over Mowgli’s future in an incredibly touching scene. Mowgli, after learning about their plan, quickly abandons them only to face Kaa once again in one of the most tense moments in the story.
And we come to the finale with Mowgli facing Shere Khan in a perfectly executed action scene with not a prolonged moment and never a blockbuster feel. It is dramatic in the purest sense possible and of course wonderfully emotional later on. The conclusion is one of the best endings ever in a Disney film, that is not an exaggeration. With Mowgli following the girl into the village and finally going to his own kind, the movie completes in a best way possible, not predictable and very realistic and natural, if sad a bit. But having Baloo and Bagheera head back to the forest dancing along the way while the titles come in is such a wonderful touch, so warm and a perfect conclusion to a beautiful movie. Really one of the finest concluded stories in the Disney canon.
With the story now out of the way, I have to praise the character development because The Jungle Book clearly has some of the best developed characters ever in the whole area of animation. Mowgli is the weakest link here as the protagonist, but he serves his purpose and is not bad, but just not particularly good. However, the emphasis on the supporting characters in this movie is evident which really paid off as there is a plethora of unique faces here. King Louis is excellent as the fire yearning orangutan, he is realistically depicted and he provides a lot of comedy as well as a danger to the main character. Kaa is laughable as the villain due to him not posing real threat at all whatsoever, but his scenes are nicely executed, memorable and the fact that he knows other characters is a nice touch. Shere Khan is a true menacing presence with great build-up choice from the filmmakers, showing him rarely before the finale and thus increasing tension remarkably. He is beautifully acted and above all a great villain that poses real threat and he is one of the better and most underrated Disney villains for sure.
Now the wolves are, as I said, wonderfully caring in the beginning and the human girl is realistically depicted, if too flirtatious in my opinion which Disney was guilty of doing a lot with their female characters. The vultures are interesting because they evidently portray the Beatles with their accent which was a unique choice from the filmmakers. But I am not a fan of that accent and behavior which is why they weren’t my cup of tea. And their song is one of weakest in the movie, if quite solid upon second viewing. As for Colonel Hathi, he is a terrific comic relief, smartly conceived and designed. His relationship with his son and his bitchy wife is funny and superbly realized in such a short time which is quite a feat. And the take on elephants is quite original and detailed with the patrol and evident chemistry between them.
Now Bagheera is wonderful as this caring and very worrisome, overprotective panther that spoils everybody’s fun. He is such a wonderful take on a parent, annoying, but warm and endlessly loving character with superb relationship both with Mowgli and Baloo. Speaking of that big bear, he is incredible. There is no other way to describe him. He wonderfully sings the movie’s best, iconic song which perfectly captures his personality – lazy and above all fun. But besides all that humor and snarky comments, he is still the heart of the movie with evident care for both of the characters. His relationship with the lead is of course terrific, but what takes the cake is his amazing relationship with Bagheera. It seems so realistic and grounded with the two endlessly fighting and joking with each other, but they rely on one another and the mutual respect and care is evident. That relationship is what drives the whole picture and is the force to be reckoned with both in terms of screenplay and character development. So yes, they are all great and Baloo is undoubtedly one of the very best, if not the finest, Disney sidekicks of all time because he does everything a sidekick should do and so much more.
The animation is once again restrained due to the studio’s budgetary constraints during this decade. But while it is inferior to the animation of ‘101 Dalmatians‘, it is superior to that of ‘The Sword in the Stone‘ for sure. It is way too simplistic, but it is also good nevertheless owing to its use of bright and pleasant colors, a beautifully depicted forest and excellent world-building. But the character design is phenomenal and one of the better designs of the era with each and every character being wonderfully realized and depicted with excellent movement and emotion in the eyes. Yes, everything is here technically simplistic, but it’s nonetheless pleasant and I found it quite solid, if not great.
The soundtrack is probably in the top five for the films of the classic era. Trust in Me is the weakest with too monotone approach and That’s What Friends Are For is also forgettable, but successful in resembling the style of the Beatles without a doubt. My Own Home is a somewhat boring song, but it serves its purpose with its sad tone perfectly accompanying that important scene. Colonel Hathi’s March is a lot of fun, a short little song that manages to be memorable and hugely entertaining and upbeat following in the footsteps of Following the Leader from ‘Peter Pan‘. I Wanna Be Like You is the most exhilarating and action packed song with superb dance choreography. I was not a fan of it before, but after listening to it again, I now fully appreciate it for it is incredibly fun and undeniably catchy. And it also serves as plot progression and showcasing character’s goal perfectly as every song in a musical should do. But there is just one champion here and that is of course the fantastic Bare Necessities. Catchy, with excellent lyrics fitting the character’s personality perfectly, immensely entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable, it is accompanied by the movie’s best scene and it is without a doubt one of the very best classic Disney songs.
The movie is also incredibly well acted with each and every voice actor giving such a memorable performance fitting within their characters perfectly. It is a beautifully directed and nicely edited movie. Very well scripted, crafted and executed. And also extremely funny at times and emotionally engaging. But speaking of the flaws, it has some. The protagonist is so-so and the animation is not the best as I mentioned before and some scenes tend to go for too long. They are all entertaining and it is overall a well edited and paced film, but sometimes it just feels too episodic in nature and never like a full-fledged story as it should feel. And although the action is superbly executed and almost all of the characters are amazing, there is an overabundance of both of these and a lack of more quiet moments which sometimes happen, but they are rare and that is a problem most Pixar movies have as well, by the way.