Based off Rudyard Kipling’s famous collection of stories, The Jungle Book movie is one of Disney’s most beloved classics, with characters that have charmed audiences since the day it was released.
Walt Disney’s 1967 hand-drawn animated classic is, in my humble opinion, one of the landmarks of Disney character animation. Despite a limited budget and story, The Jungle Book was a huge success, accumulating over $205 million in worldwide box office for the studio while delighting families all over the world. To put that into perspective — accounting for inflation using today’s dollars — the film has made an astounding $632 million according to boxofficemojo.com. And almost all of that success lies in the hands of the performers — the voice actors (such as the musical Phil Harris, who plays Baloo) and more significantly, the visual actors, the animators.
Baloo and Mowgli singing “The Bare Necessities” — one of the many delicious scenes animated by the marvelous Ollie Johnston for Disney’s The Jungle Book.
“Gee, this will make me immortal. The way you guys animate me I can do no wrong.” — Phil Harris, voice of Baloo the bear
At the time The Jungle Book was being produced, Walt Disney was busy in the design and formation of his landmark theme park, Disneyland. The film didn’t have guidance or the focus of its leader, nor the money to back its production. (In fact, Walt passed away before its theatrical release.) However, this was also a time, when its animators, and the famous Nine Old Men in particular, were at the peak of their creative powers.
Animated magic by the talented Milt Kahl make the interaction of characters like Shere Khan and Kaa an absolute delight to watch. From Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book.
Some the best scenes ever animated by the very best of this craft are in this one humble movie. Anytime I want to be inspired by pure, unadulterated beautiful and entertaining character animation I look to this film. When I get tired of this craft imitating live action with little to no deviation, I pick up this old classic. If I feel exhausted or even jaded about the industry, a sneak peak at any one of the numerous scenes of magic on display, and I’m quickly cheered up and inspired again.
The lackadaisical buzzards from The Jungle Book may only have a small role to play, but they too, are conceived and animated with charm and elegance. One would be hard-pressed to find weak or thoughtless animation in this little gem of a movie.
When I teach new and veteran animators alike, scenes from The Jungle Book show up for discussion and demonstration more often than any other film.
“None of it is possible, however, if the crew has failed to develop the characters to the point where their thoughts and their actions seem natural and believable. It cannot be achieved mechanically, or by copying, or by wishful thinking, but only the careful build-up, understanding, and a love for the characters.” — Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, from The Illusion of Life.
The magical leaders (Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery) of The Jungle Book‘s character animation brought great rhythm and joy to everyone, and especially so, in the song and dance sequence “I Wanna Be Like You.”
The Jungle Book is a film archive that serves as an encyclopedia of animation knowledge, technique and execution. All the principles that make the craft great are on display, with the primary focus on what’s most important in character animation, performance. There are scenes that are so natural, they wouldn’t feel out of place in a live action movie. Yet there are others, that do things only this art form can do — display and communicate a visual language that delights not just the eyes but the soul.
To finish this tribute to this favorite character film of mine, let’s take a look at these two scenes, one by Milt Kahl and the second by John Lounsbery. Both scenes display elegant phrasing, are immeasurably creative and are executed to perfection. If you can, re-watch them in slow-motion, and you’ll be blown away.
This marvelous scene is a tour de force of animated magic that can be delivered only by the hands of a master (Milt Kahl). The walk is convincing in weight and timing, and the energy and spirit is perfect. Just look at how the foot placement, staging and rhythm of the shot progresses throughout the scene. From Disney’s The Jungle Book.
This short scene, by John Lounsbery, is a perfect example of the type of animation that is almost never seen today. It’s just a small scene – depicting a tiny moment of silliness and visual playfulness – but it’s a perfect display of the merger of fantastic drawing (posing) and musical rhythm that help make this movie so vibrant. The creativity on display here never ceases to amaze me.
“The audience understood the characters and identified with what each was trying to do. Every sequence gave new opportunities to see other facets of the personalities. And even though there was very little story as such, these character relationships and interesting personalities made this the most successful cartoon up to that time in our history.” — Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.
This Baloo model sheet shows the kind of research and exploration that was put into the development of the characters. Property of Walt Disney.
I wish today’s executives, producers and directors would remember that statement by Frank and Ollie. If we make room for truly organic character development and interaction — scenes for animators (the actors) to visually and emotionally explore the characters on screen — we can begin again to create something memorable. As a test, try to name how many characters you see in today’s animated features where you remember more than one or two of them after you’ve seen it. In a film like The Jungle Book, you can remember and name them all.