The face of movie animation has changed significantly since "The Jungle Book" was last released in July of 1984. At that time, as had been the case for some years, any Disney classic animated reissue was a welcome respite from the ordinary blah animated films that occasionally came to the movie theaters - including some of the newer Disney efforts.
But lately, with heated competition in the "classical" animation vein from Don Bluth and the stepped-up efforts of inferior animation suppliers, such as Hanna-Barbera ("Jetsons") - not to mention the ready availability of so many Disney classics now on video - we tend to take something like "The Jungle Book" almost for granted.After all, it doesn't have the character depth or even the artistic depth of, say, "Pinocchio" or "Dumbo."
But "The Jungle Book" remains one of Disney's most popular animated features, loaded with enough humor and charm to prompt a smile from even the most cynical adult, much less children, who are much more easily satisfied.
And video stores have long listed "The Jungle Book" as one of the most frequently requested titles for release on tape. (A distinct possibility for next year, given the pattern Disney is following with reissues lately.)
Based loosely on the Kipling "Mowgli" stories, "The Jungle Book" tells the story of the young man-cub Mowgli, raised by wolves and threatened by the dreaded tiger Shere Kahn. Protective panther Bagheera takes Mowgli through the jungle to return him to the "man-village," meeting an assortment of zany characters along the way.
Sebastian Cabot does the voice of Bagheera, all authority and pomposity; George Sanders is properly evil as Shere Kahn; Sterling Holloway (who also voices "Winnie the Pooh") is hilarious as Kaa, the hypnotic snake.
But best-remembered are doubtless Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear, a "jungle bum," as Bagheera calls him, and Louis Prima as the jazz-loving king of the apes. They are funny, very memorable characters, and the ones best-loved by children.
The songs by Robert and Richard Sherman (Oscar-winners for "Mary Poppins") are generally very good.
"The Jungle Book" may never be as critically respected as some others in the Disney canon, but it will long be a favorite with audiences. And with good reason.