The first 3 shots of this 16 scene sequence where Baloo and Mowgli meet for the first time in Walt Disney’s 1967 classic, The Jungle Book.
Let’s begin our 5 Part analysis of Frank Thomas’ and Ollie Johnston’s marvelous work in this portion of The Jungle Book:
Scene 1: A Lesson in broken rhythm and natural action.
I love the unplanned feeling of this shot even though it’s clearly well-designed in terms of layout, camera move and action choreography. Notice how he comes into screen with a beautiful line of action that helps “open up” the layout and action:
Throughout this shot Baloo moves from screen right to left, but does so in an uninhibited fashion — moving forward, then back and changing his gait and gestures as he flows with the musical tempo inside his head. You get a sense of a character totally “gone” in his own mind, living completely present, happy and harmoniously allowing his body to “do its thing.”
Ollie’s work (at least it looks like it’s his) is often very intuitive; his characters behave in a far more sincere and natural manner than other animators. It’s not as aesthetically designed as say Milt Kahl’s work but the sacrifice in the visual dominance of the posing actually lends itself more suitably to this kind of shot. That said, it still carries with it it’s own imaginative appeal as can be seen here (with the main key poses highlighted):
When the shot ends, your attention halts and flows along with Baloo’s. It’s as if your discovery of the man-cub aligns with his. (We don’t really notice Mowgli prior to this moment.)
Shot 2: A lesson in simplicity and clarity
This shot, despite being only 3 seconds long, displays remarkable clarity in terms of acting, movement and appeal. It’s deceptively simple and effective — the kind of result all top artists aim for.
Centrally located in frame we know exactly where to look right from the start. The pose has charm, perfect sense of visual weight and a clear sense of having come from somewhere and about to go somewhere else:
Now let’s look at the rhythm There’s great balance in timing here; poses hold and move for just the right amount of time, syncing perfectly with the dialogue — neither head nor body stay locked nor is there continuous movement “all over the place.” Using the nose as a simple marker, we can see the wonderfully clear variation of movement:
The shot ends with a body movement downwards and towards screen right leading us where Baloo eyes have been directing us all along — right at Mowgli’s position. This transitions to the perfectly executed match cut in scene 3.
Scene 3: A lesson in personality animation and texture
I love this shot. It reveals the directness of the character. He’s curious, unafraid and unpretentious. Interested in what’s in front of him, Baloo dives right in Mowgli’s personal space — analyzing, sniffing and commenting openly about the subject before him. You get a sense of a guy (in this case a bear) that you just like because he’s so honest and friendly. This is revealed by the playfulness on display, both in the character’s attitude and the contrasting actions:
Take the wonderful moment when his eyes look as if he’s totally gone, drunken by the aroma of his discovery. This is a character (and animator) having fun.
A marvelous control of tempo is on display; the euphoric moment Baloo experiences for a brief moment followed by his deeper intrusion into Mowgli’s personal space sets up the contrasting action that follows. The slap across the nose may come across as brash and sudden but it beautifully parallels the sniffy nose action earlier — “nosiness” punished (again we’ll track the nose to follow the beats):
Despite the seemingly violent behavior by Mowgli towards a seemingly innocent soul, it’s clear by Baloo’s reaction that he’s neither hurt physically nor offended. He’s more surprised than anything else. It’s an expression of “oooohh” rather than “ouch!”
The scene ends as Baloo retracts from Mowgli and the boy telling him to buzz off. The little guy has some fight in him and is unafraid of a creature much larger than him (at this point he’s clearly never seen a bear before, so he’s also naive about the whole thing). His forward gesture and Baloo’s retreat directs you perfectly towards the next bit of business; scene direction is carefully adhered to here in creating good consistency and continuity:
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our analysis!