50 years later, The Jungle Ebook continues to be Disney’s greatest soundtrack

The web is choked with nostalgia for the youth-oriented entertainments of the not-too-distant previous. With Reminiscence Wipe, The A.V. Membership takes a take a look at a few of our formative favorites with clearer eyes and asks that all-important query: Have been they actually that nice to start with?

After I was a child, my favourite toy was a conveyable report participant, which kicked off my lifelong love of music (and vinyl). One 12 months, my brother and I each acquired Disney soundtracks: I received Bambi—lame, redeemed solely by “Little April Bathe”—whereas my brother acquired the infinitely superior The Jungle Ebook. I’ve to emphasise simply how necessary these soundtracks had been within the days earlier than YouTube and even house video. Earlier than Disney started placing its basic movies on VHS within the mid-1980s (The Jungle Ebook wouldn’t seem till 1991), the one approach to see them was each seven years, when Disney would rerelease certainly one of them to theaters. However their soundtracks, which got here with matching image books, helped us pre-internet, pre-DVD children recreate these films in our brains.

I quickly swiped The Jungle Ebook from my brother, and I listened to it each likelihood I received. In some way, I by no means, ever bored with it. Even in faculty, I might drop “I Wan’na Be Like You” on the mixtapes I made for buddies. Years later, I pummeled my very own children with the Little Golden Ebook model of what my toddler daughter referred to as the story about “the lady within the pink underwear.” However it wasn’t till this 12 months’s 50th anniversary—and after watching on-line documentaries like Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Ebook”: The Making Of A Musical Masterpiecethat I ever actually thought of what made it so particular, past my very own private affinity for it.



To start with, The Jungle Ebook was the final animated characteristic Walt Disney ever personally labored on. His earlier effort, 1963’s The Sword In The Stone, was thought of lower than successful, so he took a agency guiding hand on his subsequent challenge—even instructing his crew to not learn the Rudyard Kipling e book it was based mostly on. Kipling’s story of a boy, Mowgli, who’s raised within the jungle by wolves and at last escorted again to the “man village” by benevolent panther Bagheera proved to be a tricky one to adapt. To help Disney’s crew of “9 outdated males,” together with director Wolfgang Reitherman and animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, he advised bringing in bandleader Phil Harris to voice the pivotal character of Baloo, the carefree bear Mowgli befriends alongside the best way.

That type of stunt-casting wasn’t the norm like it’s as we speak, the place Mandy Moore and Tom Hanks rake in hundreds of thousands doing voice-overs. As an alternative, Disney’s left-field suggestion grew out of his private friendship with the musician, who had been entertaining audiences because the 1930s because the baritone-voiced bandleader on The Jack Benny Program, the place his signature music was “That’s What I Like About The South.” Harris proved so fashionable that he and his spouse, Alice Faye, ultimately spun off into their very own, Rexall Drug-sponsored radio sitcom about their house life. There, Harris performed a barely fictionalized model of himself—a not-that-bright, but never-stressed man who simply preferred to have time. It made him an ideal match for Baloo.

However, Harris discovered The Jungle Ebook script a bit stilted on the first read-through, and he requested if he may simply do it his personal means. His free supply, stuffed with ad-libbed slang, gave the manufacturing crew all the required inspiration to create Baloo (one of many biggest characters in Disney historical past, in accordance with Incredibles director Brad Chicken). And it helped animators Thomas and Johnston—greatest buddies who had places of work proper subsequent to one another—to nail Baloo’s relationship with Mowgli, a lot of which they’d based mostly on their very own friendship.

Harris’ uptempo speech patterns, honed by years in smoky golf equipment, additionally slot in completely with The Jungle Ebook’s jazzy rating, a decidedly trendy selection for a studio that had all the time tended towards the classically orchestral (with Peggy Lee’s songwriting activate 1955’s Girl And The Tramp a notable exception). Composer George Bruns saved that reactive, improvisational really feel, bringing pressure to the movie’s frequent jungle chases with heightened horns whereas additionally turning the rhythms of Baloo’s boxing lesson right into a fascinating drum solo.


The songs, then again, had a harder time coming to fruition. After the primary spherical of tunes by Terry Gilkyson had been deemed too darkish, Disney introduced in brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, who had crafted hooky hits for the likes of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and whom Disney lovingly known as his “sons.” He was able to scrap Gilkyson’s compositions altogether, however there was one music his crew begged him to maintain. They had been proper: Baloo’s laid-back mantra of “The Naked Requirements” helped seize The Jungle Ebook its solely Academy Award nomination, for Greatest Unique Music.

The Shermans had one other showstopper on the prepared, although, and it concerned one other fashionable bandleader. Louis Prima was famed for his full of life, unhinged jazz performances, encouraging his band to go off the rails on songs like “Bounce, Jive An’ Wail.” Like Harris, Prima had a robust, charismatic character and loads of braveness that made him a really perfect match for King Louie, the brash orangutan who introduces himself as “the king of the swingers.” Animators paid homage to Prima’s Las Vegas band marching serpentine via the recording studio by turning it into King Louie’s personal wild parade throughout “I Wan’na Be Like You.”

Though Harris busts into “I Wan’na Be Like You” earlier than the music is over, as Baloo is transfixed by “that loopy beat,” the 2 greats by no means really met within the studio. As an alternative, Prima recorded his components first, whereas Harris improvised his personal scats towards Prima’s “oo-bee-do” primal beats. I consider the ultimate result’s—as my many mixtapes would attest—the best music ever recorded within the Disney canon.

Harris, Prima, and Academy Award-winning actor George Sanders (who lent his silky, menacing voice to the lethal tiger Shere Khan) had been all thought of unusually high-profile stars for an animated film on the time. However even they could have been upstaged had the studio landed its first selection of hiring The Beatles to play a gaggle of vultures who befriend Mowgli within the jungle, even having them drawn with their iconic “mop tops.” Whereas the band turned down the supply, the studio saved the Liverpool accents intact, drafting Chad Stuart (of the duo Chad & Jeremy) to assist flip the vultures’ music from a pop tune right into a barbershop quartet. This, Walt Disney believed, would maintain it from ever sounding dated.

The Jungle Ebook additionally featured many acquainted voices from the Disney steady, together with Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera), Sterling Holloway (Kaa the snake), Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), and future cult movie star Clint Howard (the infant elephant Hathi Jr.)—all of whom had appeared collectively in a Winnie The Pooh brief the earlier 12 months. Reitherman was the son of Jungle Ebook director Wolfie Reitherman, who took over as manufacturing lagged on and introduced in his personal son after the unique Mowgli’s voice modified. (Not like radio, which frequently used grownup actors like Walter Tetley and June Foray to play kids, Disney favored the voices of actual children, producing depictions that had been cute however not cloying.)

The Jungle Ebook featured not solely acquainted voices, however melodies. Kaa’s music “Belief In Me” was a discarded minimize from Mary Poppins, beforehand referred to as “The Land Of Sand.” The scratchy-voiced Holloway—a talented performer who may go from enjoying Winnie The Pooh to the devious Kaa in simply two films—turned “Belief In Me” right into a creepily hypnotic dirge, delivered as Kaa tries to lull Mowgli right into a stupor so he can eat him.

The Shermans additionally cleverly wove “My Personal House” into the movie’s background rating, in order that by the point the music exhibits up at film’s finish, it appears acquainted—like they’re coming house proper together with Mowgli. “My Personal House” is a bittersweet ending, wallowing in a minor key as Baloo says goodbye to his good friend, now returned to the “man village” the place he belongs. However The Jungle Ebook really goes out on a extra cheerful coda as “Naked Requirements” will get a reprise from Baloo and Bagheera.

Disney died whereas The Jungle Ebook was nonetheless in manufacturing, paying his last go to to the studio to see its animators. However underneath the lasting affect of his steering, The Jungle Ebook grew to become one of many highest-grossing films of 1967, in the long run incomes virtually $142 million. It was additionally critically acclaimed as a return to kind for Disney animation; the Academy’s then-president, Gregory Peck, even threatened to stop until The Jungle Ebook was not solely nominated, however took house Greatest Image. Alas, the primary animated Greatest Image nominee wouldn’t be till Disney’s Magnificence And The Beast in 1991. (Peck didn’t stop.)


For a lot of, The Jungle Ebook marked the final gasp of Disney’s golden age, a malaise that continued till the resurgence kicked off by 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Whether or not you consider that—Harris, who went on to star in 1970’s The Aristocats and 1973’s Robin Hood, might need begged to vary—the movie is definitely distinctive inside the Disney canon. Neither basic fairy story like Cinderella or Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, nor certainly one of its animal tragedies like Dumbo or Bambi, The Jungle Ebook is an unabashedly joyful, unusually jazzy exploration of friendship. Whereas there are many different contenders for “greatest” Disney soundtrack—some even abetted by trendy heavy-hitters, like Elton John on The Lion King and Lin-Manuel Miranda on Moana—the musical chemistry of The Jungle Ebook stays, for me, troublesome to surpass. I’m undoubtedly not sorry I stole it from my brother.

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