10 Things You Didn’t Know About Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’
Rudyard Kipling’s stories of a boy raised by wolves growing up in the Indian jungle sure are a popular subject for movies. At this very moment, both Disney and Warner Brothers have live-action adaptations in the works and a computer animated version is in production in India. Still, the best known movie version has to be Disney’s 1967 animated musical.
Since ‘The Jungle Book’ is getting so much attention from Hollywood and beyond, we’re revisiting the Disney film and sharing some fun facts about its production.
It Was the Last Film Walt Disney Himself Worked On
Walt Disney passed away in 1966 from complications from lung cancer. ‘The Jungle Book’ was released the following year, making it the last animated film to have its production personally supervised by Walt. The fate of animation at the Disney studio was uncertain following Walt’s death, so the critical and financial success of ‘The Jungle Book’ was much needed good news for DIsney animation.
The Original Story Was Darker
Bill Peet, a Disney story artist who had been with the studio since 1937, storyboarded an early draft of ‘The Jungle Book’ that had a clearer storyline than Kipling’s episodic tales, yet still retained the dark tone of the original book. Walt found Peet’s version too serious for a Disney film and wanted changes. Peet refused and quit both the project and his job at Disney. He went on to become a successful writer and illustrator of children’s books.
Though much of Peet’s version of the movie was scrapped, some elements that he created remain, including King Louie and the ending where Mowgli falls for a young girl and returns to the human village with her.
Phil Harris Made Baloo a Star
Before Harris was cast in the role, Baloo didn’t have a huge role in Disney’s version of ‘The Jungle Book.’ But the Disney artists loved the warmth and spontaneity that Harris gave the bear. Baloo became the emotional center of the story, an affectionate not-quite father figure torn between his own desire to have Mowgli stay in the jungle and his responsibility to do what’s right for the man cub.
Harris went on to voice two more Disney characters: Thomas O’Malley in ‘The Aristocats’ and Baloo’s brown-furred twin Little John in ‘Robin Hood.’
“Mowgli” is Pronounced Wrong
According to Kipling’s daughter, the first syllable of Mowgli’s name rhymes with “cow” rather than “show.” The mispronunciation was not unique to Disney, as it showed up in at least one previous film adaptation of the book. It’s not clear whether Disney just didn’t know or didn’t care how to pronounce “Mowgli,” but Kipling’s daughter reportedly never forgave the mistake.
Louis Prima Improvised a Lot of His Singing as King Louie
Celebrity voice casting was not that common in the earlier Disney movies, so singer Louis Prima playing King Louie was a bit of an oddity. Prima brought a huge amount of enthusiasm to the role, which included improvising his own scat singing with Phil Harris on ‘I Wanna Be Like You.’ He frequently called the studio with suggestions for the character and even proposed killing him off because he knew he could perform a phenomenal death scene.
Kaa and Winnie the Pooh Have the Same Voice
Streling Holloway didn’t have the vocal range of some voice actors, but he could play a wide variety of roles. His distinctive voice worked equally well as Christopher Robin’s favorite bear of very little brain, a villainous snake with hypnotic powers and numerous other Disney characters.
The Vultures Were Supposed to Be Voiced By the Beatles
The original plan was for the Beatles to voice the four vultures who befriend Mowgli when he feels betrayed by Baloo. But the Fab Four’s schedule didn’t leave time for recording their lines and John Lennon was opposed to the whole idea as well. The vultures still bear some physical and vocal resemblance to the famed British band, though their song, ‘That’s What Friends Are For,’ is more barbershop than British Invasion.
Verna Felton Voiced an Elephant in This Film and ‘Dumbo’
Actress Verna Felton was a staple of the Disney films. She voiced Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the temperamental Queen of Hearts from ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ Aunt Sarah in ‘Lady and the Tramp’ and Flora in ‘Sleeping Beauty.’
By sheer coincidence, her Disney career began and ended with elephants. She played both the imperious Matriarch and Mrs. Jumbo in ‘Dumbo’ and voiced Colonel Hathi’s level headed wife Winifred in ‘The Jungle Book.’ Winifred was the final role of Felton’s entire career, as she passed away one day before Walt Disney’s death.
Songs by the Sherman Brothers…Mostly
After rejecting Bill Peet’s darker version of ‘The Jungle Book,’ Disney brought in the songwriting team of Robert and Richard Sherman to help lighten the tone of the film with a new set of songs. The Sherman Brothers had already penned memorable music for several Disney projects, including ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘The Sword in the Stone’ and Disney park attractions including It’s a Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room.
Songwriter Terry Gilkyson had already composed songs for the earlier draft of the film, but wasn’t on board with the new direction. The only song of his that remained in the film was ‘The Bare Necessities,’ which was nominated for an Academy Award.
‘Trust in Me’ Was Originally Written for Mary Poppins
Kaa’s song ‘Trust in Me’ was once called ‘Land of Sand.’ It was written as part of a multi-song sequence in ‘Mary Poppins’ in which Mary and the Banks children travel around the world with the aid of a magic compass.
The sequence was scrapped in favor of the ‘Jolly Holiday’ scene and the melody for ‘Land of Sand’ was reused as a hypnotic song for Kaa the snake.