Mowgli, a young orphan boy, is found abandoned in the jungle and is raised by a pack of wolves in this classic Disney animated feature, (very) loosely based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories.
A few years later it is learned that Shere Khan – a ferocious tiger with a hatred of humans (voiced by George Sanders) – has returned to the jungle and Mowgli’s animal friends realise he must be escorted to the “man village” where he and his kind can be protected.
But playful Mowgli likes the jungle too much and breaks free of his guardians, which leads to comic and suspenseful complications.
Mowgli is watched over by Bagheera a serious-minded, rather fussy black panther (voiced by Sebastian Cabot) and Baloo the laid-back carefree bear (voiced by comedian Phil Harris) who both believe they have his best interests at heart, but cannot agree what those interests are.
Along the way Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo meet various other inhabitants of the jungle, including Colonel Hathi and his troop of military elephants, the treacherous snake Kaa (voiced by Sterling Holloway), King Louie, the jazz-singing orang-utan King of the monkeys (voiced by Louis Prima), and a flock of friendly vultures (who were originally to have been voiced by The Beatles and – although this idea fell through – sport “mop-top” hairstyles and have marked Liverpudlian accents).
The character voices are superb and very effective while some jazzy tunes (including The Bare Necessities) ensure easy-going fun all around.
King Louie the orangutan is perhaps the most memorable of the conniving anthropomorphised animals out to trick Mowgli. During his performance of I Wanna Be like You (The Monkey Song), Louie dances, sings and scats with such joyous abandon, even Mowgli’s lazy beatnik bear pal Baloo can’t help but dance along – though he wears a grass skirt and coconut mask as a rudimentary disguise.
Louie’s backing band include one of his bopping monkey minions slapping out a beat on a hollowed-out tree trunk and an aged ape happily strolling along playing air-trumpet.
This was the last cartoon feature supervised by Walt Disney himself. The Disney organisation released a live-action follow-up in 1994.
J. Pat O’Malley