The last animated film personally overseen by Walt Disney is “The Jungle Book,” inspired by the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy abandoned in the forest who is raised by the animals. It has some of the most endearing and memorable characters in all of Disney animation, including two voiced by top musician/singers Baloo the Bear (Phil Harris) and King Louie (Louis Prima). And it has some of Disney’s all-time best songs from the Sherman Brothers (the brother team recently portrayed in “Saving Mr. Banks”), featuring “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”
A panther named Bagheera (the aristocratic-sounding Sebastian Cabot) finds a baby in a basket deep inside the jungle. It is Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, the son of director Wolfgang Reitherman). Bagheera knows the infant will not survive unless he can find someone to care for him. So, he takes him to a wolf, who raises him for ten years along with her cubs. The animals call Mowgli “man-cub,” and he grows up happy and well cared for.
But then Shere Khan, a man-eating Bengal tiger (silkily voiced by George Sanders), returns to the jungle, and it is clear that Mowgli is not safe. Bagheera agrees to escort him to the village, where he can be with other humans. But Mowgli does not want to leave the only home he has ever known. He loves the jungle. And the animals she sees along the way only make him more sure that he wants to stay in the only home he has ever known, even after he is hypnotized and almost killed by Kaa the python (husky-voiced Sterling Holloway, best known as Winnie the Pooh). He marches with the elephant troops led by Colonel Hathi and his wife (J. Pat O’Malley and Verna Felton of “Sleeping Beauty”). King Louie is an orangutan who promises to keep Mowgli in the jungle if he will teach him the secrets of being a human, like making fire. But Mowgli was raised in the jungle, so he does not know how. He loves the easy-going Baloo the bear best of all.
But the jungle is dangerous. When Baloo tries to tell Mowgli that he has to go to the village, Mowgli runs away. Kaa and Shere Khan are after him. The animals who love Mowgli will have to find a way to show him that it is time for him to leave the jungle.
This is one of Disney’s most entertaining animated classics, and it is a pleasure to see this gorgeous new Diamond edition.