The Jungle Book (1967)
The final Walt Disney production

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A That's Not Canon Productions podcast

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Hi there and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood. I’m Jen, and this is a podcast where I’m watching every Disney feature film in the order it was released and telling you the history and commentating on its modern social implications.

This week we’re talking about The Jungle Book — The final Walt Disney Production. And before I dive into this history, let’s give a few content and trigger warnings. This history portion contains a lot of racism and discussions of death. Doesn’t that sound like a great way to introduce a beloved childhood cartoon? You betcha!

The Jungle Book was published in 1894 by Rudyard Kipling, a British author who was born in Bombay, India, sent to school in the UK at five, and returned to India when he couldn’t get into Oxford at 16. He and his parents referred to themselves as “Anglo-Indians” which is just yikes.

Kipling started out writing for local British newspapers in Bombay. By the time he was 23, Kipling had started writing his own short stories in addition to constant newspaper articles. His writing at this time was described as “frenetic”, and he published his first collection of short stories in 1888.

The next year, he was fired from the paper and sold the rights to his collections of stories for £250 which is the equivalent of just over £32,300 today or about 43,000 U.S. dollars. If you wonder why I give you the inflation adjustments for these figures, that’s why. It seems like £250 would just not be a lot to sell the rights to two books, but $43,000 is a definite maybe.

With no job, Kipling decided to return to London as it was, quote “the literary centre of the British Empire,” but first, he took a trip. He popped into Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan then headed to San Francisco. It’s during this time he says he fell in love with a geisha, and I’m just going to leave that alone.

He then went on to tour of North America that included hanging out with Mark Twain, then crossed the Atlantic and debuted in London in October 1889. He wrote for several magazines, published a novel, then had a nervous breakdown. He met an American publishing agent, and while on a vacation his doctors recommended for his breakdown, corresponded with him consistently.

It was on his way back from his tour of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and India that Kipling heard that his publisher friend had died of typhoid, so of course, his next telegram was to propose to the man’s sister who accepted. I have no idea if they had ever spoken, but hey, 1890s y’all!

They were married in 1892, and here’s how Kipling described this happy time in his life, London was, quote “thick of an influenza epidemic, when the undertakers had run out of black horses and the dead had to be content with brown ones,” end quote. So, I mean, that’s the way I want my husband to describe when we got married.

They moved to the U.S. and Rudyard began to write about an Indian child who had been raised by wolves. He told these stories to their first daughter Josephine and submitted the individual stories to magazines nearby. They were structured as fables, or moral lessons using animals, and also drew upon Indian folklore.

Did Kipling have any issue with culturally appropriating the Indian people’s tales. Of course he didn’t. He’s quoted as saying that native Indians had the same brains as animals, so he just took their ideas and made them “civilized.” A more direct quote that skips the straight up racism, puts it more succinctly. Quote, “In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen," endq uote. Ugh. Gross.

Anyway, in 1894, he collected the first group of tales into the Jungle Book, and in 1895, he published the second group as the Second Jungle Book. Early versions of the books included illustrations by his father.

To date, the Jungle Book has been translated into 36 different language and has had over 500 print editions. And you know, I could go on and tell you more about Kipling. About how his works repeatedly promoted the ideal that White men were the world’s only hope for civilization. Or that he wrote a poem called The White Man’s Burden to encourage the U.S. and Great Britain to take over the Philippines because native peoples there just couldn’t govern themselves, but that’s really not about the Jungle Book.

Suffice it to say that Rudyard Kipling was gross. The gold standard for Yikes on Bikes White Guys. And we’re about to celebrate his writing through this cartoon. Yay!

Meanwhile, back at Disney, after The Sword in the Stone failed to perform in theatres, Bill Peet went to Walt and told him that the animation department wanted to focus on animals instead of people. In this conversation, he suggested the Jungle Book. Walt agreed, but unlike the last two films he didn’t let Bill go off and write the script unsupervised. Walt wrote it with him. His nephew Roy E Disney, who was becoming more and more involved in the studio, said that everything about The Jungle Book was inspired and touched by Walt. And you know, as I’m looking at it, the films that Walt inserted himself into seem to have performed better than the ones he let others take the lead. Except for 101 Dalmatians. That did fine either way.

However, this also led to a lot of disagreements over Peet’s treatment of the story, which Walt thought was too dark for family audiences. After several arguments and disagreements, Bill left the studio in January 1964. The story goes that, after Peet left, Walt then assigned the script to Larry Clemmons by handing him a copy of The Jungle Book and saying, “The first thing I want you to do is not read this.”

Cool, Walt. Cool.

They used xerography for animation again. And I’m starting to think Walt didn’t hate the technique as much as he claimed.

The process changed a little more this time when, instead of giving each animator their own character to focus on, animators were in charge of sequences. That way, when characters interacted with one another, a scene didn’t have to be passed around to get made.

The film was well underway, and almost complete when, in November of 1966, Walt started feeling unwell. A heavy smoker since World War I, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer. Nowadays, that would be the start of a battle with cancer, but in the 60s, it was different. In late November, Walt was admitted to the hospital, underwent surgery, and on December 15, 1966, he died of circulatory collapse due to cancer just 10 days after turning 65.

I kind of expected to find that Walt had a massive funeral. After all, his company was responsible for the happiness of so many people and created livelihoods for many more. But his family held a private funeral the day after his death and interred his ashes at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park. And no, I don’t at all buy that he is cryogenically frozen and stored in Disneyland. That’s absurd until we find out it’s true.

The studio was, understandably, rocked by his passing. I mean, the timeline of him finding out he had cancer to death was 34 days. It had to be shocking to all involved. However, they couldn’t let the studio die with him, so work proceeded.

In October of 1967, The Jungle Book was released, 10 months after Walt Disney’s passing.

All in all, the film cost the studio $4 million or $33 million when adjusted for inflation. And whether it was the public response to this being the last movie that Walt Disney ever touched or that it was a genuinely good movie, The Jungle Book was a success!

Both Time and The New York Times praised the film. They both acknowledged that the movie went pretty far off book from its source material, but that the result was, to quote the Times, “delightful,” going on to say that “it is the happiest possible way to remember Walt Disney.” The New York Times called it, “Simple, uncluttered fun,” which sounds like a backhanded compliment somehow.

The Bare Necessities was even nominated for “Best Original Song” at the Oscars but lost to “Talk with the Animals,” from Dr. Dolittle which I find a fair bit of irony in.

Theatre goers loved the film as well. By 1970, its domestic box office had earned $13 million, and its international box office brought it to $23.8 million or $159.6 million today. It became the second highest earning animated movie, according to a 1971 edition of Variety, but I can’t seem to find which one would have been the highest. Honestly, I just flipped through the box office earnings sections of my scripts and I can’t figure out what that claim that was based on. If you have a copy of the January 6 ,1971 Variety, could you look it up and let me know?

It was rereleased into theatres in 1978, 1984, and 1990 and has domestic box office sales of $141 million which is about $671 million today. It was also a major hit in other countries. In fact, it’s still Germany’s most popular movie ever. It sold 27.3 million tickets while it was in theatres, and for reference, Titanic only sold 18.8 million tickets. Like, that’s a lot of people loving the Jungle Book.

So why was it so popular? Was it the draw of Walt Disney’s final movie? Or was it truly great in and of itself. Stay tuned after this quick break, and I’ll watch it and break it down for you.

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This week’s cover art was made by Katilynn Moss. She has a great Etsy shop where you can own her art and put it on your walls. I’ve linked to her Instagram and Etsy in the show notes.

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Oh good, the Disney plus version has the warning that there will be offensive stuff on it, so I’m going to take a deep breath.

The movie opens panning through the jungle not unlike the opening of Bambi. We see trees, flowers, vines, ferns, ruins, and rivers.

This time, we have a narrator telling us that there are many strange stories of the jungle, and Bagheera hears a baby crying. Or rather, it was a man-cub. Bagheera is our narrator, and he almost leaves the baby in its basket, but it’s just so cute.

Realizing the baby will soon starve, Bagheera brings the baby to a wolf who had recently had pups. And okay, this is a really common trope, but infants shouldn’t drink non-human milk. I won’t get into the should humans drink non-human milk argument at all because I really like me some ice cream. That said, humans feeding off of other animals can lead to really bad effects, but not in cartoons!

Anyway, Bagheera drops off this basket of cute with the wolves and just abandons it because why ask if this is ok? The wolves decide the basket of cute is cute and adopt the baby who grows to be called Mowgli. Bagheera spies on him playing with his wolf brothers and sisters through the years and is worried because he knows Mowgli will need to go back to the humans at some point.

Some time later, the wolves meet and decide that, since a tiger would like to eat the boy, they’ll just kick him out of the wolf pack. Their leader, Akeera, says that the pack is no match for a tiger, but I call B.S. A wolf pack can absolutely take down a lone tiger. In fact, I looked it up, and the estimation is that a pack of 4 or 5 wolves could take down a tiger with some losses. The pack in the Jungle Book, according to the book no one read, is 14 wolves strong. Not only could they take down Shere Khan. They’d rip him to pieces with little to no casualties.

Nevertheless, Akeera can’t hear me yelling logic at him, so they send Bagheera to take Mowgli back to the man village. He lets Mowgli ride him like a horse, a desperate wish I had as a child. It appears they didn’t tell Mowgli what was going to happen here. Just like, take him back and hope he doesn’t ask questions.

As they go, Bagheera explains that Shere Khan won’t allow Mowgli to become another hunter with a gun. Never you mind that, if you take Mowgli back to the village he absolutely will become another hunter with a gun. In the original stories, Shere Khan had a vendetta against Mowgli because he tried to eat him as an infant, and Mowgli's parents scared him off with fire and scarred, but the people of the jungle don’t know that.

I love how the story explains that the wolves named the man cub Mowgli —which by the way means ‘frog’ because he doesn't have fur — but Bagheera just calls him Man Cub throughout the movie. They climb a tree to sleep. A snake with the voice of Winnie the Pooh descends from the tree — I know Winnie the Pooh came after, but that’s whose voice that is. The snake hypnotizes Mowgli, but he does have the thought to call out to Bagheera.

After Bagheera saves Mowgli from Kaa, Kaa proceeds to hypnotize Bagheera, and Mowgli saves his life by throwing the bulk of Kaa off the tree.

They’re woken in the morning by a parade of elephants. The Dawn Patrol is out to sing a very loud song and stomp as loud as possible. So this group of elephants with a very cute baby who is somehow smaller than Mowgli seems to be made up of all males and I would like an explanation.

Oh, one of them is named Winifred. Okay. The — um — commander does an inspection of their trunks and tusks like they’re guns and bayonets. He also doesn't seem to notice that Mowgli is a human until he talks and I have no idea how that works. Bagheera intercedes and promises Mowgli is leaving the jungle. Colonel Hathi then proceeds to forget his son.

Mowgli thinks the twelve elephant pileup is hilarious, but Bagheera has no sense of humour. He threatens to drag Mowgli to the village and then pulls on what is the hardiest loin cloth ever created. They each storm off in opposite directions, Bagheera apparently forgetting that he literally just promised to take Mowgli to the village.

As Mowgli sulks, a bear sings himself out of the woods. He also doesn’t seem to know what Mowgli is at first, but he’ll teach Mowgli how to fight like a bear. In this lesson, Mowgli will learn how to growl like a bear. Bagheera overhears the bear roars, and is like, “Oh crap, I just left that kid to die.”

Baloo knocks Mowgli into a tree with such force that he’d probably be paralyzed or dead. Mowgli, however, is a superhero so he retorts by tickling the bear into submission. Baloo decides he’s going to keep Mowgli because he, logically, realizes that, if they send Mowgli back to the man village, they’ll turn him into a man who doesn’t respect animals.

Then we have the most well-known song in the movie. The Bear Necessities is the forebearer of Hakuna Matata. “What’s the best way to make sure you’re taken care of? Have you tried not worrying about it? That’s the trick!”

The bridge of this song involves the most involved scratching scene in any film.

Seriously, this bear tells Mowgli and a whole audience of small children that the best way to have a good life is to not worry in any way and just expect the world to give you a handout.

Hey, hey, it’s the monkeys! They steal Mowgli off of Baloo as he floats down the river, and he wouldn’t have noticed at all if it weren’t for a fly. Bagheera’s less than two jungle blocks away and thinks it took a little longer than he expected for bad things to go down.

The monkeys take Mowgli to the ancient ruins. Here, there is an orangutan who calls Mowgli “cousin” the whole time. It seems evolution was way more popular in the 50s and 60s than I thought. King Louie wants Mowgli to teach him how to be a man and sings a jazz song about it. A smaller monkey joins in, but that shall not be tolerated.

Mowgli thinks Louie’s doing a great job of being a human, but what Louie really wants is to know how to make fire which Mowgli can’t teach him. And it’s really a terrible idea to teach an ape how to make fire.

Baloo distracts Louie by putting on ape face while Bagheera tries to get Mowgli out of there, and what proceeds is a hilarious attempt to rescue Mowgli while also putting him in great danger and destroying the ruins.

They all get out with only severe concussions though.

Afterward, Bagheera isn’t upset that Mowgli was kidnapped or that he was in danger. Mostly, he hopes he’s learned a lesson about associating with undesirable flat faced, dirty, jazz singing monkeys. Oof! Right in the childhood!

Mowgli, meanwhile, is sleeping like a 7 year old that’s been at a theme park all day.

Bagheera proceeds to try to explain to Baloo that Mowgli can’t stay in the jungle, and Baloo doesn’t understand why a human child can’t be raised by a bear. Bagheera says like should stay with like. Baloo wouldn’t marry a panther, right? Baloo said he’d absolutely marry a panther if the panther asked.

Finally, Bagheera explains that Shere Khan will kill Mowgli because he fears guns and fire. And again, Mowgli knows nothing about guns or fire at this point, so according to the cartoon, Shere Khan is clearly just a scaredy cat that kills anything that’s different.

You know what I just realized this far into the movie? We never speak to any female characters in the Jungle Book. Bagheera left Mowgli with a wolf who had recently given birth, but we never meet her, just her mate. Ugh.

Baloo finally agrees to take Mowgli back to the man village, and Mowgli’s just glad to be with Baloo. Baloo tries to explain that Mowgli is a human, and Mowgli’s like “I’m a bear now!”

As soon as Baloo broaches the subject of Mowgli probably dying at the claws of a scaredy tiger and having to go back to the village, Mowgli says he’s just like Bagheera and runs into the jungle. Baloo, a bear, an animal with a nose that can smell from 20 miles away, loses the kid immediately.

As Baloo and Bagheera look for Mowgli, we see Shere Khan hunting Bambi’s mom. She’s scared off by the jungle patrol.

Off topic fun fact: my whole life, I thought it was really weird that tigers were so bright orange because it seems like the colour humans wear to be easily seen in the woods. However, I recently found out ungulates like antelope and deer can’t see orange, so the tiger just looks like long grass to them. Back to the movie.

Bagheera explains to Colonel Hathi that he’s lost a man cub and Shere Khan does a Mr. Burns impersonation. “Excellent.”

Colonel Hathi is totes cool with leaving Mowgli in the jungle to tigers, but Winifred tells him to pull his trunk out of wherever it is and help the kid. “That little boy is no different than our own son,” except that he’s not a dang elephant. But hey, a female voice! For a line!

Winifred tells Hathi she’ll lead the herd if he won’t help and he puts on his misogynist hat. “A woman, leading my herd. Preposterous!”

Get out, Colonel. Get out.

The child elephant asks his dad to help, and because the boy is a male, his dad’s like, “Of course we’ll help.”

The elephants get voluntold to find Mowgli and pound out into the jungle clearing bamboo. Shere Kahn’s like, “I’m gonna go eat a kid.”

Mowgli is at a waterfall and just goofing about like a kiddo does. According to my research, he’s 10, and the way he acts is about right for that age.

As he mopes about, Kaa lifts him up into the tree. Kaa says he’s got a way to keep Mowgli in the jungle if Mowgli will just trust him, and I’m pretty sure that he actually means that he’s gonna eat Mowgli and his remains will stay in the jungle forever.

Kaa proceeds to sing a song about trusting a snake while hypnotizing Mowgli. Shere Khan overhears this and pulls on Kaa’s tail which is apparently his doorbell. I think Kaa’s like 30 ft long.

Shere Khan proceeds to threaten Kaa in the most polite way possible. Kaa claims he sings himself to sleep, but Khan doesn't trust a snake because Khan is smart.

Kaa says, "picking on that poor little helpless boy," and then remembers he planned to eat that poor little helpless boy. We repeat the gag of Kaa getting knotted and kinked up as he tries to slither away.

We proceed to the dead part of the jungle in a scene that might be an homage to the crows in Dumbo, but instead of caricatures of black men, they're caricatures of Brits. It seems that the Beatles were originally supposed to voice the vultures, and I’m not sure if they just drew them with that in mind or if they were making fun of them for canceling.

They see Mowgli and act like they've never seen a living being before. Hey sometime, when you're really bored, look into how cool vultures are. They look ugly, but they are fascinating creatures.

Anyway, the Vultures make fun of how Mowgli looks and are surprised when he says, "Screw you," and walks off. For reference, that's an excellent way to handle that. They decide to make Mowgli an honorary vulture which has some specific problems to it, but it's nice they offered. They proceed to sing about being friends like a barbershop quartet, and I really would love to know what this would have sounded like with the Beatles behind it.

Their song is interrupted by Shere Khan. He's definitely a bass. The vultures tell Mowgli to run, but he's just decided he has a death wish. Though the wolf pack definitely could have taken Shere Khan, Mowgli cannot.

Baloo shows up, and at first I was certain that a bear could absolutely take a tiger, but after a little research, I found that Siberian tigers sometimes hunt and eat brown bears when food is lean. Bengal tigers are 25% smaller than Siberian, but Baloo is supposed to be a sloth bear which is about half the size of a brown bear, so Shere Khan can definitely take him.

Mowgli fashions a club out of a very small branch, but with a bear holding on to his tail, it does its work. The vultures carry Mowgli off. As Khan and Baloo come to blows, lightning strikes a tree and the one thing that Khan is afraid of appears — fire.

Mowgli grabs a branch of fire, which would be terrifying, and ties it to Khan's tail which would also be terrifying if it was possible. The vultures laugh Khan out of the wasteland until it appears that Baloo has died in the rain. Bagheera shows up to comfort Mowgli by telling him to be brave.

As he tells Mowgli that Baloo was brave and that the jungle will remember Baloo forever. He gives a beautiful eulogy punctuated by Baloo being comic relief. Baloo then surprises them by revealing he's alive which pisses off Bagheera because he heard the whole thing.

The vultures are sad to see them go.

As they go back to the jungle, Mowgli sees and hears a girl singing by the water. I'll bring us back to the fact that this is the second female voice in the entire movie. Mowgli asks that "that" is because he's never seen a girl before. Baloo's like, that's trouble, please don't.

And I feel like there's a story behind Confirmed Bachelor Bear here.

This little girl sings about her father hunting and her mother cooking. She fetches the water until she's grown. Mowgli spies on her and falls into the water. She doesn't seem at all concerned about this and just keeps singing.

She thinks Mowgli's cute, so she drops her pot of water and lets Mowgli carry it back for her. I'm pretty sure that's not a thing that was accepted at this time, but ok. In the end, Mowgli chooses to return to the world of men because a fellow ten year old is cute.

Bagheera tells Baloo this means Mowgli is where he belongs, and the adoptee fathers dance into the jungle singing a song about how no one should worry about anything ever.

So, um, the Jungle Book, is problematic. After eight whole years with three movies where I had to really look the “oof” moments, Jungle Book comes back with bald-faced racism and misogyny. I mean, seriously, the jazz band is made of monkeys. 1967, folks!

But I really want to know what you think. What are your memories of the Jungle Book? Have you watched it recently? How’d that feel? Let me know on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by looking for oofmychildhood. You can also check out my website at oofmychildhood.com

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Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you come back each week to discuss Disney through modern eyes. This episode was written, recorded, and produced by me. I release a new episode every Monday through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many, many other podcatchers.

So, until next time, keep the magic alive.

[music]



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