Ink & Pixel: The Jungle Book

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

I don’t know about you, but to me the idea of being raised in a jungle by a bunch of wild animals doesn’t exactly sound like a great time. Truth be told, in my lifetime I’ve only spent a significant amount of time in one jungle. The year was 1997, and I was vacationing in Puerto Rico when I found myself deep inside the El Yunque Rain Forest located on the Eastern side of the Luquillo Mountains. About half way through our tour of this outrageously lush expanse of elephant ear plants, sierra palms, and brightly colored lizards, it started to rain.

Now, when I say rain, I mean rain. It was as if some compelling force had flipped a weather switch on us. We’re talking massive buckets here – drops the size of amply filled water balloons. I’ll never forget how drenched I got, or the notion I couldn’t shake that a little boy in that environment would have to be tough as nails in order to survive growing up in a place so dangerous and unpredictable.

Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK is the 19th animated feature in the Walt Disney Classics library. Released in 1967, this animated action musical was directed by Wolgang Reitherman and produced by Walt Disney himself. Sadly, this would be the final film for which Walt would receive a producer credit. On December 15th, 1966 – halfway through the making of THE JUNGLE BOOK – Walt passed away due to an acute circulatory collapse caused by lung cancer.

Shortly thereafter, whispers and strange tales of the events following Walt’s death began to surface. One such rumor claimed that Walt had himself cryonically frozen, and that his body was then placed beneath the highly popular Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. In actuality, Disney’s remains were cremated, and his ashes released at the famous Forrest Lawn Memorial Park located in Glendale, California. I think it’s fair to say that, despite knowing the man’s true and final resting place, a small part of Walt resides in every man, woman, and child who has ever experienced the magic that he and his company have shared with the world.

With that said, back into the jungle we go! Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK was inspired by a series of stories by the same name written by English author, Rudyard Kipling. The stories first appeared in varying magazine publications between the years 1893-94. Originally, the script for the planned Disney adaptation was very dark. In fact, it was so dark that Walt himself ordered that it be re-written, stating that he would not invite such gloomy and barbaric themes into what he wanted to be a “family film”. With (original) writer, Bill Peet, and composer, Terry Gilkyson, replaced, work began anew for Disney’s soulful jungle adventure.

For those of you who have yet to see Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, the film invites you to bear witness to the story of Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), a savage Indian child raised by wolves. This feral child – a cherished resident of the animal kingdom, and friend to all who live peacefully within it – is one day urged by his friends Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) the panther and Baloo (Phil Harris) the bear to leave the jungle, for they fear that a dangerous predatory tiger by the name of Shere Khan (George Sanders) is once again on the prowl. Not wanting to leave his home, Mowgli gathers his animal friends to devise a plan to outwit the blood-thirsty jungle cat and, with any luck, keep the young boy safe for the rest of his days.

Now, everyone knows that it takes several creative talents to produce a Disney Animated Classic, and THE JUNGLE BOOK is no different. The fact of the matter is that the making of the film was scheduled during a very busy time in Walt’s career. In addition to overseeing the production of THE JUNGLE BOOK, Walt’s attentions were also focused on expanding his Disneyland theme park as well as contributing to a live-action film entitled THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE. Therefore, Walt appointed his good friend and co-worker Bill Peet as his second in command on the project. In fact, it was Peet who first proposed the idea of adapting Kipling’s work into an animated motion picture, claiming that it would provide Disney the opportunity to explore and create more interesting animal characters.

Unfortunately, Walt, upon checking in on the progress of THE JUNGLE BOOK, expressed that he was unhappy with dark direction the film had taken, and made the executive decision to remove Peet from the project. The two men had a falling out shortly thereafter, causing Peet to disassociate himself with the famous animation studio. Although Walt was disappointed by the schism created between he and his friend, he was fully aware that the show must go on. Hence, a writer by the name of Larry Clemmons was brought in to help restructure the film, ultimately making it lighter in tone and much more family friendly than Peet’s shadowy, blackhearted version.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I would like to draw your attention to the talents of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. These two men were, as my Father used to say, thick as thieves. Always at their best when working as a dynamic duo, Frank and Ollie were responsible for (roughly) half of the animation found in Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK. In fact, these two men were brought onto this particular film project due in no small part to their understanding of how to forge an everlasting bond.

You see, THE JUNGLE BOOK, at its core, is a buddy action flick. Therefore, Frank and Ollie’s sensibilities toward creating the rapport shared by Mowgli and Baloo proved invaluable. Each lent their expertise and talent to the scenes in which the bond of friendship between Mowgli and Baloo was showcased. In essence, it was Frank and Ollie’s job to make certain that those particular moments within the film out-shone all others. The men remained friends for over 70 years before finally passing on to chill for an eternity in the afterlife. I’d like to think that my friendship with my best friend, Brendan, will endure beyond our physical existence and into our otherworldly adventures as well.

At the close of its theatrical run, Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK managed a staggering total of $205,843,612 in receipts! That’s outrageous considering that the film’s production budget was a mere $4 million. What’s more is that the love for Disney’s take on Kipling’s world didn’t stop there. A live-action version of the film entitled THE JUNGLE BOOK: MOWGLI’S STORY was released in the year 1998, and brought with it even more changes to both Disney and Kipling’s material. In addition to these releases, characters from THE JUNGLE BOOK have appeared in several video game adaptations most commonly found on systems hailing the 16-Bit era.

In more recent news, IRON MAN director Jon Favreau is hard at work in developing yet another live-action version of Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK for Disney Studios. The film is set for a 2015 release and will feature actors Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Chistopher Walken as King Louie, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o as Rakcha, and Neel Sethi as Mowgli. You can bet that I’ll be there for when Favreau’s version of this timeless classic hits theaters! Just look at that cast! One has to wonder what else is in store for these characters as the years progress. For now, I’ll just continue singing “The Bare Necessities” until I pass out. Catch you next time!


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.