I remember two of the songs, and therefore by default the film, being a firm favourite of mine when I was younger so coming back to it was always going to be an interesting experience and, thankfully, I have to say it was not a disappointment.
On a technical level I certainly would have to admit that the final film personally overseen by Walt Disney is slightly flawed as its episodic nature doesn’t entirely flow together and while a couple of the songs are some of the most memorable in the Disney songbook, the other few are almost instantly forgettable, as well as which the films seems to lack the edge of the likes of Snow White or Bambi where we get some genuinely scary or upsetting sequences.
That said the combination of the trio of main characters Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo do act as a thread through the ‘episodes’ of the movie and, while there are a few inconsistent moments from them, they do act as a glue for the rest.
One of the most striking things about the animals in The Jungle Book is the way the animation and characters span the two kinds of typical Disney animals as, while they certainly have their moments of ‘acting human’ (Baloo dancing in a grass skirt) they also, for a majority of the movie, seem to have much more in common with Simba, Mufasa and co from The Lion King that the totally anthropomorphic animals of the likes of Robin Hood – and, at the risk of ruining any reputation I may have, the wolf cubs Mowgli grows up with are just plain cute.
The films two big musical number are certainly its highlights with our introduction to Baloo in The Bear Necessities, swiftly followed by King Louis’ surprisingly sinister, but still hugely jazzy, I Wanna Be Like You marking something of a Disney classic double whammy. Both these sequences feature the films best animation with Baloo and the apes dancing and King Louis having what I can only describe as a jazz-off with another of the apes particularly standing out.
As the film goes on things do get a bit repetitive as Bagheera once again encounters Colonel Hathi and his troop and then Mowgli meets the vultures who, though often described as essentially being The Beatles, come across as more of a hastily shoe horned attempt to reference “Swinging London” into the film, though one of the vultures does sport a clear Liverpudlian accent, but their banter, for me, ultimately fell flat and only seemed to be there to save Mowgli from the clutches of the fabulous Shere Kahn.
Shere Kahn is the films other triumph as he mixes animation which brings to mind enough of a real tiger and enough of a cartoon with some excellent voice acting from George Sanders to create a real threatening bad guy that Disney’s producers clearly drew a lot from with The Lion King’s Scar. Unfortunately, he only appears towards the end of the movie and, though he is mentioned earlier on, this gives him disappointingly little screen time.
With a denouement up of Mowgli returning to the Man Village the film really ends on a very predictable point that doesn’t seem to serve to say much, other than a particularly conservative message for youngsters, though I guess that is to be expected from Uncle Walt, but none of these criticisms can really bring down what remains a classic of the animation genre that is still influencing the work of Disney and other animation houses to this day, and in this HD transfer looks absolutely stunning and as fresh as it ever has.