"The Jungle Book" is a simple story of friendship and finding your place in the world. I think that it is often overlooked because it lacks the attention-grabbing opening number that immediately draws us into the story; however, each chapter of this episodic presentation works together to create an outstanding progression. I can't believe that I never recognized this piece as a masterpiece. I appreciate the complex plots of modern Disney films like "Frozen" and "Zootopia," but there is something beautiful about a simplistic and straightforward story. After the disappointment of "The Sword in the Stone," Walt Disney decided to be actively involved in every aspect of this film and it shows. This is the last animated film that Walt personally touched before his death and this straightforward, character-driven story is a tribute to his ability to create pure magic from simplicity. He managed to “Disney-fy” Rudyard Kiplings's story to remove its dark tone while capturing the important lessons and characters from the original. I love Baloo so much. He's one of the most lovable and underrated Disney characters. Perhaps it's the familiarity with Phil Harris' voice in “The Aristocats” (Thomas O'Malley) and “Robin Hood” (Little John), or maybe it's because he improvised most of his lines to give them a sense of genuine honesty, but you can't help but want Baloo to be your papa bear from the moment that you meet him. Then when you throw in other Disney voices like Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh) as Kaa, Bruce Reitherman (Christopher Robin) as Mowgli, Sebastian Cabot (Pooh Narrator) as Bagheera, and Verna Felton (Fairy Godmother, Queen of Hearts) in her final film role as Winifred the Elephant, the entire film is predisposed to impressive chemistry. It is interesting that Louis Prima continues to live on through his character of King Louie, who captures the swing style of the famous bandleader. The cherry on top is George Sanders’ successful provision of a truly evil voice for Shere Khan that is on par with Scar and Judge Frollo, some of Disney's greatest villain voices. The story entertains with sight gags that enhance the story without distracting from it. The brief elephant sequence is one of the cleverest in any Disney movie, creating a comical military satire with a ragtag group of elephants. J. Pat O'Mallet as Hathi, the elephant general, is perfection. “Robin Hood” later borrowed some animated moments from the film (the elephant trumpet, King Louie’s dance), as well as basing Little John off of Baloo due to budget restrictions. This may seem like a cheap move but in modern times, it adds awesome Easter eggs to these films. As usual, much of this film’s magic comes from its expertly crafted musical numbers. The back-to-back performances of "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You" will practically have you out of your seat and dancing along, while "My Own Home" is one of the most beautiful songs composed by the Sherman Brothers. And let's not forget that there's a great barbershop piece sung by the Liverpool-accented vultures who are awfully reminiscent of a popular 1960's mop-topped quartet. When you combine these numbers with the heartbreaking string music by George Bruns at two key moments in the film, you have the complete package. I made the mistake of waiting too long to see “The Jungle Book” through adult eyes. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Prioritize this film so that you can fully appreciate the last masterpiece that Walt brought to life prior to his death.
[Pictured: The thick-lined animation gives the film that classic Disney feel]