March to Disney: The Jungle Book – Beyond the Bare Necessities


Last year to coincide with a trip to Walt Disney World in March, I decided to have a month-long focus on Disney fare. Their vaults are vast and varied enough such that this is a theme that could recur annually. Below you will find links to the inaugural posts written for the theme.

The Jungle Book: Beyond the Bare Necessities

The Jungle Book (1967, Disney)

I won’t speak for others in this regard, but I know to me, even though I’ve seen this movie a number of times; I typically struggle to put my finger on other scenes in The Jungle Book beside “The Bare Necessities” without racking my brain. I found that this happened with some of the late-’60s and ’70s titles and this is not because I don’t find them up to snuff with other Disney animated fare. I think what it is, as I noted after having also re-watching The Sword in the Stone (which I will cover here shortly), is that there’s a more sketch-like approach to the storytelling.

Previously on film the Korda brothers with Sabu in the lead brought this tale to life. However, with Disney’s penchant for anthropomorphism it was clear this was a candidate for a new treatment for a new generation. This title is yet another, of many, that is cited as being Disney’s last. I’ve heard this so many times I don’t even know which one is true anymore.

The voice cast features many legends from the Disney stable who made their presence known in other Disney films, many in the Winnie the Pooh shorts/feature: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman and Sterling Holloway.

In some ways the standout nature of the music in this film is an example of the double-edged sword that is the incredible talent of the Sherman Brothers. I always hum the songs and then have to remind myself of the voice talent that was assembled for this film.

The Jungle Book (1967, Disney)

The talent in general all around is there for at this point Disney animated features were a well-oiled machine with Wolfgang Reitherman at the helm directing.

What struck me upon this viewing of the film was that there is a certain subtlety to the approach of this story. There is an ongoing antagonist, Shere Khan, in this tale, he’s not omnipresent, but much like the Gmork in The Neverending Story many years later; he’s always lurking about. He’s less present here than in the live action. However, the thrust of this tale being can Mowgli continue to survive in the jungle as we slowly try to convince him to go to the man village, it is still important as Mowgli must learn man-like ways to adapt and survive. As sparse as Khan’s appearances are, he still nearly takes out a deer and immediately draws a dangerous parallel to Bambi heightening his fear factor.

Another subtle touch is the way in which the passage of time is indicated from when Mowgli is a baby to the present day: “10 times the rains had come and gone,” indicative of years seeing as how the rains refer to monsoon season. Lastly, there’s an underlying indicator (at least to a younger viewer) of the coming-of-age struggle in this tale when Baloo responds to Bagheera’s assertion that he to to the man village: “The man village. That’s awful, they’ll make a man out of him.”

The tale is narrated by Bagheera, a panther, the one who puts Mowgli with wolves in the first place. In terms of segments there’s Bagheera’s finding him, his being raised by wolves, and then his time with Baloo being the third segment.

The Jungle Book (1967, Disney)

There are also in these segmented tales difficulty in recalling that there is an ulterior motive in long song sequences. For example, King Louis is after something in “I Wan’na Be Like You’ it just takes a bulk of that song for it to come to the fore.

Brisker storytelling is found when the elephants are introduced by their marching song. Another Pooh alumni is found here as Clint Howard voices the young elephant and he was the first voice of Roo.

An interesting aspect of this film, and one that likely captures the imagination of the young to this very day, is here you have a boy who gets to roam the jungle and live with and be like animals; he tries to become them. It’s a whimsical tale that falls short of the horror of children becoming animals in Pinocchio.

One of the better elements of the film is that Baloo’s sense of responsibility in getting Mowgli to the safety of his own kind comes just as Mowgli learns he wants to be with Baloo. It’s a perfect midpoint. Mowgli has his own understanding of his belonging, Baloo’s eyes have opened and he has another entirely.

The Jungle Book (1967, Disney)

Another thing that really does work, and lends itself to a feeling of “looseness” about the structure of this film is that characters are often introduced as silly or caricatures, but end up serving a vital purpose. Mowgli is missing which brings the elephants back to search for him. The vultures who seem like nothing more than the Disney writers and animators riffing on The Beatles, and maybe a reactionary attempt to create non-controversial comic relief birds (see Dumbo) also factor into the finale.

Furthermore, I was reminded that a musical moment in this film provides one of its better jolts as Khan jumps in at the end of a song and gets the ball rolling on the climactic events of the story.

Perhaps this one of the things my subconscious decides to block out, but there is one of the more effective near deaths in the Disney canon. That and the dialogue-free execution of Mowgli’s decision is some of the finest animation and direction that they did. Everything is apparent, but nothing is painfully obvious. It’s sensitively and beautifully rendered and it’s something I recalled as soon as the film started. As many times as I’ve seen it it still gives me chills. It’s wonderful.

So, yes, the structure is a bit episodic and the songs are infectiously memorable. However, that ought not obscure some of the truly gorgeous and wonderful things that occur in this movie.

Review- Alabama Moon

Uriah Shelton, Jimmy Bennett and Gabriel Basso in Alabama Moon (Faulkner-McLean Entertainment)

Alabama Moon is a film whose road to distribution was a long and winding one. In fact, it’s eventual home video release (which is how I ended up seeing it) was delayed because it finally got a limited regional release in the Gulf states, mainly Alabama (naturally). It’s worth noting that this model is not unusual. The straight-to-video release isn’t as profitable as it once was, and for some reason just as maligned even in this Streaming Age, so limited releases will act as a springboard for DVD sales.

Alabama Moon tells the tale of young Moon Blake, a boy who is raised in the woods by an eccentric father who is wary of both modernity and the government. Very early on, and rendered rather dramatically, Moon loses his father and much of the film will deal with how Moon tries to cope on his own, while trying to avoid authorities like a bumbling quasi-humorous cop played by Clint Howard or the clutches of a reformatory.

The standout of the film is the performance of Jimmy Bennett, who plays Moon Blake. He was most recently JJ on No Ordinary Family but is perhaps known for playing young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. While Bennett has played in much grittier, darker and dramatic vehicles before such as Trucker and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things this may just be his best performance to date. This role demands a lot of him not just in terms of highly-charged emotional scenes but also some comedic timing is required and he needs to be a grounded normal-seeming character in the film’s goofier moments. As I tweeted immediately after watching it he basically makes it worth watching on his own and is “crazy good.”

There are other performances of note as well. Those deserving first mention are Moon’s friends played by Gabriel Basso and Uriah Shelton respectively. They play very different kinds of characters but are equally good foils because it never seems unnatural that Moon would befriend either because they both seem to reflect disparate aspects of his personality both a fighter and a quiet, solitary type.

The adult casting offers more mixed results. John Goodman’s character thankfully plays a more crucial role later in the film than it seems he will early on and is very well played. Then we come to the last key figure which is the police officer played by Clint Howard. Now merely casting Clint Howard, or that you can cast him in the part, is already an indication of how you intend to play a part. Howard can play a creepy menacing type but more often than not he’s goofy and here he’s like a mean-spirited Barney Fife only less competent.

It’s in that writing and casting decision where the die is cast that the tone of the film will be a balancing act between very serious drama in a coming-of-age vein and lighthearted borderline screwball comedy that must counterbalance one another. It is to this film’s credit that it manages to keep them both in check and make the film both light viewing and emotionally engaging at the same time and also some of that credit once again goes to the cast.

The film manages to deal with quite a few themes in a subtler than expected manner despite the variegated tone. One of the main ones being individuation from parents specifically that one can accept their parents’s faults, love them for who they are and learn from them but must eventually learn to see the the world, and interact with it, in their own way.

It may be easy to read this review and see why this film has fallen through the cracks as it’s not exactly the easiest to pigeonhole, however, I hope that in reading this review you have also found it is worth your time.

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this film and I’m very glad I tracked it down.