The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967)

01Jul11

[Voices] Phil Harris (Baloo), Bruce Reitherman (Mowgli), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera). Screenplay by Larry Clemons et al. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Rating: U. Running time: 78 minutes.

So, like Guinness, some childhood favourites just don’t travel well. This is a real tragedy. My parents have often teased me about my daily viewings of The Jungle Book as a toddler. Apparently I used to remove the cushions from the sofa and make a slide down onto the floor with them, before I rubbed my back on the curtains to the sound of ‘I Wanna Be Like You.’ Those early kicks from this animated musical adventure remain untouched in the memory, but unfortunately, unlike Pixar films, the thrills undoubtedly remain in the past. One could put it down to the rapid development of animation, to the extent that this now looks so boringly simple alongside the modern Miyazakis et al, but I think this would be too kind. The problem is deeper than that. The issue isn’t even that, in a way that bizarrely (and of course coincidentally) preempts modern arthouse movements, the film has a surprising lack of coherence. It plays out more like a series of episodes that do the bare necessities (sorry) to further the plot, and instead attempt to be pleasurable ends in themselves. The problem is simply and disastrously that those attempts are so often slow and dull. The opening encounter with Baloo the bear and the dancing with the monkeys might remain magical, but so many scenes I had rightly forgotten about in their entirety, from the sequences with the snake to the time with the elephants and vultures, are totally forgettable. The lingering presence of the oddly bourgeois-voiced tiger, Shere Khan, doesn’t even manage to inject any life into this stale tale. If you search online for the infamous musical moments in The Jungle Book, you will no doubt be able to watch and listen to them all over again, nostalgically, with the widest of smiles. The songs still work tremendously. But they only work as music videos. Much more would be needed, such as lessons from Toy Story, to make this a wonderful film for both adults and children alike.

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