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Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Jungle Book

For today's edition of "Saturday Night at the Movies", I thought that I would talk about a movie that I absolutely loved as a kid.  And, I purposely waited until the store that I work at had their annual summer blowout sale on DVD's and Blu-Ray movies.

Seriously, how the Walt Disney company can justify charging over thirty dollars for a movie that was released over four decades ago, I'll never understand.  Sure, they're excellent movies, but would I pay $30 for an older film?  Not in this lifetime!

Ahem...rant against Disney pricing and merchandising over.

Anyway, I'll tell you a little bit about how I ended up watching this movie for the first time.  I was eleven years old, and I was very much obsessed with Disney movies at that time.  Problem was that I could only afford to rent them, as VHS copies of the Disney movies at that time were over thirty bucks!

Seriously, Disney.  What was up with that?

Anyway, I had just finished watching a marathon of "The Little Mermaid", "Dumbo", "Peter Pan", and "The Rescuers Down Under" (which at the time was the newest movie to be released on VHS).  The next movie in the list was a film that was originally released in 1967.  It was a movie that took place in a jungle setting and featured a whole cast of animals who lived in the jungle.

One thing I didn't realize was that quite a few of these characters that appeared in this movie also appeared in one of my favourite cartoons at the time.

At that time, I was so into Disney movies that I would watch the cartoon block known as "The Disney Afternoon" every Saturday between the hours of 3:00pm until 6:00pm.  That was what we all watched before cable channels such as "The Disney Channel" and "Disney Jr." existed, and it was the only place where you could watch "Darkwing Duck", "Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers", and "Goof Troop".

And, "Tale Spin", might I add. 

You see, I didn't know this until I had started watching this movie, but "Tale Spin" was inspired by the jungle film.  I admit it was kind of weird seeing Baloo, Louie, and Shere Khan appearing in the movie, knowing that they also appeared in "Tale Spin".  Though, to be fair, in the movie, Baloo didn't fly a plane, Louie didn't run a bar, and Shere Khan didn't wear custom made Italian suits.  They just acted like the jungle creatures that they were.

And when a little boy named Mowgli was dropped into the fold, it caused a little bit of a kerfuffle, and was the catalyst behind the events of the movie that would come to be known as...

"The Jungle Book"!

Based on the classic tale of the same name by author Rudyard Kipling, "The Jungle Book" depicts the story of a young boy left abandoned in the jungle and raised by wolves, and the struggles that come from living a life entirely in the jungle - especially when you never know what dangers may lurk.

This film was the very last film that Walt Disney himself had produced.  He died in December 1966 - just ten months before the film's October 1967 debut.  And one of the things that Disney did was change the film's tone to make it different from Kipling's version.  Initially the film was supposed to be a lot darker than originally presented, but Walt Disney insisted that the film be family-friendly, which lead to the dismissal of a writer and music composer.

The end result was a film that was well-received, and it was a film that became a Disney classic...but I do have to wonder what the original version would have been like.  I guess some things we'll never really know.

So, the story of "The Jungle Book" goes like this.  Mowgli (voiced by Bruce Reitherman - the son of director Wolfgang Reitherman) is discovered in a basket in the middle of an Indian jungle by Bagheera, a black panther (Sebastian Cabot).  And, Bagheera, knowing full well that a human could never survive in the jungle alone, decides to leave him in the care of a young mother wolf who just gave birth to several babies.  And so for the first ten years of Mowgli's life, he is raised as a wolf and becomes extremely close to his wolf brothers and sisters.

And, I'm sure that Mowgli would have stayed in the jungle for the rest of his life if he had the choice.  Unfortunately, fate had a way of causing everything to be flipped around and turned upside-down.

Enter Shere Khan.  A Bengal Tiger with an attitude.  A tiger that would love to make Mowgli his next meal.  He was definitely a beast that you did not want to cross, and he was definitely the most feared jungle creature in India.  He had stayed away from the area for years, but when reports seep into the jungle that he is back and hungrier than ever before, the focus soon switches to making sure that Mowgli is evacuated from the jungle as quickly as possible. 

Luckily, Bagheera knows of a Man-Village that has people like Mowgli living there.  And Bagheera knows that the people of the village could protect Mowgli a lot better than the jungle creatures could if Shere Khan made a surprise appearance.  So, as a result of this, Bagheera decides to escort Mowgli to the village for his own safety.

Of course, the trip doesn't go smoothly.  Mowgli almost gets eaten by a giant python named Kaa (Sterling Holloway), joins the elephant patrol, and has a huge falling out with Bagheera which causes the two to be separated.  Mowgli crosses paths with the fun-loving, carefree Baloo (Phil Harris), and Baloo decides that he will prevent Mowgli from going to the Man-Village and will raise him himself.  Of course, a group of monkeys lead by King Louie (Louis Prima) abducts Mowgli because they feel that he can teach them how to make fire. 

Fire becomes a huge part of the climax of this story, might I add.  But, that won't come until the end of the film...which of course I won't spoil for you.  But is it any wonder why Mowgli would become a little bit confused over who he is, and who he wants to be?  Bagheera wants to protect him.  Baloo wants to adopt him.  King Louie wants him to teach him the mystery behind creating fire.  And Kaa and Shere Khan want to eat him!  And you thought having to clean your bedroom was rough!

So, since I won't reveal the ending of this movie, how would you like a list of trivia facts regarding this movie?

1 - This film was more or less the movie that decided the fate of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.  If the film was a success, the studios would stay open.  If it had failed, Disney would have had no choice but to cease production.  I think you all know what happened next.

2 - In the movie, Kaa is an enemy who wants to eat Mowgli.  In the book, he's much friendlier with Mowgli.

3 - Towards the end of the film, there are four vulture creatures that look a lot like The Beatles.  It was planned for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison to voice the vultures.  But Lennon's refusal to commit to the project forced Disney to hire other actors.

4 - According to the daughter of Rudyard Kipling, the name Mowgli is supposed to be pronounced MAU-glee instead of MOW-glee, and reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the mistake.

5 - Interestingly enough, Bruce Reitherman - the voice of Mowgli - now works as a wildlife documentarian!

6 - The hardest part about the animation process of "The Jungle Book" was animating the stripes on Shere Khan.  Hmmm...maybe that's why they always put Shere Khan in a suit on "TaleSpin".

7 - The majority of the main cast was male - with one exception.  The role of Winifred the Elephant was provided by Verna Felton.

8 - Shere Khan's facial features were modeled after the man who voiced him - George Sanders.

9 - Kaa's song, "Trust in Me" was originally meant to appear in 1964's "Mary Poppins" under a different title.

10 - David Alan Bailey was originally supposed to be the voice of Mowgli...but he had to be recast when Bailey's voice began to change during production.

11 - There was to be an additional rhinoceros character named Rocky.  Frank Fontaine even recorded lines for this character.  At the last minute, the rhinoceros character was scrapped.

12 - As mentioned above, Walt Disney had to let go of a screenwriter when his vision of "The Jungle Book" didn't match his own.  That writer was Bill Peet, and that decision put an end to a 25-year-long working relationship between Peet and Disney.

13 - Composer Terry Gilkyson was also let go from the project.  Only one of his songs, "Bare Necessities", was included in the film.  That song was nominated for an Academy Award.

14 - Because of busy schedules, Louis Prima and Phil Harris had to record "I Wanna Be Like You" separately.

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