The last film produced by Uncle Walt, The Jungle Book is cinema’s most triumphant swan-song; an intoxicating cocktail of the all-inclusive Disney dazzle which refuses to wither with age. If Bambi is the wartime outpouring of Walt’s dark heart, then this is his universal masterpiece. Widely namechecked by our generation of ’toonsmiths as the definitive touchstone of their artform, the joys of TJB go way beyond just a bunch of pretty drawings.
Yes, the animation’s vitality is spellbinding, but it’s also the pacing (effortless shifts from uproarious action to sage meditations on the trials of life); the surprisingly prescient environmental asides; the closely observed slapstick belly-laughs; the sly script; the unironic singalong delight in those iconic musical wig-outs (‘Bare Necessities’; ‘I Wanna Be Like You’…).
While the double-disc package hits all the usual Disney DVD marks (games, featurettes, music vids), the Making Of materials are mostly cribbed from US TV, complete with syrupy voice-overs. Of all the interviewees, songwriter Richard Sherman most accurately skewers the film’s appeal (“I don’t think of the characters as drawings. They’re like friends I grew up with.”)
So, most of all, it’s the personality; the look and sound and soul of those characters: kindly panther Bagheera; crazy uncle-bear Baloo; the sinister snake, Kaa; casually chilling tiger-tyrant Shere Khan... And, best, spindly ‘man-cub’ Mowgli, whose fearless energy and exuberance beautifully captures childhood before the loss of innocence. Eloquent, elegant and indisputably essential.