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  Jungle Book, The Get With The Beat
Year: 1967
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Stars: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, Louis Prima, J. Pat O'Malley, Verna Felton, Clint Howard, Chad Stewart, Lord Tim Hudson, John Abbott, Ben Wright, Darleen Carr
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Animated, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: Bagheera the panther (voiced by Sebastian Cabot) was making his way through the Indian jungle when he heard the sound of crying, and went to investigate. Soon he discovered an abandoned man-cub, as he called the baby, and realised if it was to survive it was up to him to do something about it, therefore he set off to the nearest wolf family, the mother of the clan having recently given birth to some cubs of her own, and gave them the baby to look after. So Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) was raised by wolves and grew into a happy-go-lucky boy, but Bagheera knew there had to be a time when he was returned to the world of mankind, and he felt now was that time since the word was the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) was back...

It may not have been one of the most faithful adaptations ever, but this variation on Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories proved a big hit in its day, one of the last really widely accepted great Disney films until the nineteen-nineties arrived decades later. The reason for that was the idea that since it had been the last production overseen by Walt Disney (he died near the end of the filmmaking) it was judged that he had been such a huge influence on the projects under his care that the company had lost its way, with an overreliance on re-releasing their back catalogue instead of polishing and promoting their newer movies the criticism their post-1967 output had levelled at them.

But the director of The Jungle Book was Wolfgang Reitherman, who had been with Disney for a long while, and though budgetary restraints forced him to cut corners considering what he had to work with the company were fortunate to have him. It was he who supervised the animation output of their features into the seventies, and much of that faith they had in him was thanks to the sterling job he made of this; sure, it didn't boast the strongest plotline in the Disney canon, but he made up for that with a kinetic style, barely pausing for breath before launching into his next setpiece. Another contributing factor were the songs from those musical geniuses the Sherman Brothers, giving the mood a lift whenever it was needed, and providing at least one of the most beloved tunes Disney ever presented.

There were two here, the first being Baloo the Bear's song The Bear Necessities, which was actually penned by Terry Gilkyson for an earlier draft of the movie which was considered too good to lose, and sung by Phil Harris, a bandleader whose personalised reading of the character made him one of the friendliest voices in all of cartoons. The other was from the Shermans, I Wanna Be Like You, whose insistent beat and improvisational air thanks to Louis Prima's performance of it as King Louie, who wants Mowgli to tell him how to make fire, was irresistibly infectious, and is possibly the most famous of all the Disney songs. Elsewhere, the Beatles were asked to perform the Vultures, but were unable thanks to their packed schedule, so while they retain some Fab Four stylings in their look, their song was more a close harmony number.

You could tell there were corners being cut thanks to that sketchy approach to drawing and the repeats of selected shots, but there were reasons that did not matter so much when the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Helping was this was essentially a tale of two parents bringing their child into the wider world and seeing him off, knowing they would like the kid to stay but also that there comes a time when they have to make their own way. Bagheera was the mother in that capacity, despite being male, and Baloo was the laidback, indulgent father who thinks that the good times would never end and he can play with Mowgli forever. This lent a poignancy to the mood that thankfully was never allowed to grow mawkish, and the fact that the jungle boy is ever in danger of being eaten by the villainous Shere Khan (Sanders was as inspired a choice as Harris or Prima) offers an edge that at least harkened back a little to the Kipling view of the wild. Really it was the combination of the music and the feeling it captured a playtime which would reluctantly be over all too soon that earned its worth.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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