Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, J. Pat O’Malley, Bruce Reitherman
Oscar Nominations: Best Music, Original Song (“The Bare Necessities” — Terry Gilkyson)
SUMMARY: In the jungles of India, a baby named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) is found in a basket by a river by a black panther named Bagherra (Sebastian Cabot). Bagheera takes the baby to a mother wolf with young cubs, who agrees to take care of him. Ten years later, the wolves have a special meeting, observed by Bagheera. They have learned that Shere Khan (George Sanders) has returned to their jungle, and are scared: Shere Khan is a notorious tiger who hates humans. The wolves are afraid that when Shere Khan learns about Mowgli, he will attack him, and any wolves who try to protect the boy. As such, the wolves decide that Mowgli can no longer stay with their pack. Mowgli’s wolf father argues that he cannot simply be sent into the jungle, so Bagheera volunteers to take him to the nearest “man village”. When Mogli finds out that he is being sent to live with humans, he is irate, and demands to be allowed to stay. Bagheera, a rather strict disciplinarian, ignores him, and the two find a tree to sleep in. That night, a python named Kaa (Sterling Holloway) visits their tree. Using his eyes, Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli and is about to eat him when Bagheera suddenly wakes up and stops him. The next morning, Mowgli wakes up to the sound of an elephant troop led by Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley). A baby elephant is part of the troop, and Mowgli decides to join him. He walks on his hands and feet like the elephants, but is soon noticed by Hathi. The colonel is incensed at Mowgli’s mockery, and nearly stomps on Mowgli before he is again rescued by Bagheera. Even now, Mowgli is determined to stay in the jungle, and Bagheera has finally had enough. He leaves Mowgli in the jungle and walks away.
Not very long after Bagheera leaves, Mowgli meets Baloo (Phil Harris), a free-spirited bear who he instantly takes a liking to. Together the two while away the day, fishing, swimming and playing games. Baloo sympathizes with Mowgli’s desire to stay in the jungle, telling him that he will make a much better bear than man. As they are talking, a group of monkeys suddenly swoops in and snatches Mowgli, then takes him to their leader, King Louie (Louis Prima). King Louie is determined to know the secret of the Red Flower (fire), which he knows humans can make. Unfortunately, Mowgli is not one of the humans with this knowledge, and when he tells King Louie this, the ape gets very angry. However, he is distracted by the sudden appearance of a large female ape — who is really Baloo in disguise. After Mowgli’s kidnapping, Baloo asked Bagheera for help, and both came to rescue the boy. Baloo gets all of the monkeys to join him in a dance that rocks the ground so much it destroys the old temple where the monkeys live: Bagheera snatches Mowgli away just in time. Baloo’s cooperation with Bagheera makes Mowgli believe that Baloo also intends to send him to the man village, so he runs away. He encounters a group of vultures who briefly entertain him, but they abruptly leave when Shere Khan suddenly shows up. Mowgli decides to try to fight the tiger with a club, but as Shere Khan launches himself at the boy, Baloo steps on his tail, stopping him in mid-air. Then the vultures return and lift Mowgli off the ground, flying him to a tree that has just been hit by lightning and is now on fire. They advise him that the only thing Shere Khan is afraid of is fire, so Mowgli grabs a burning branch and runs back to Shere Khan. When the tiger again approaches, Mowgli bops him on the head with the branch, burning the tiger. He abruptly turns tail and runs off into the jungle. Later, Bagheera tells Mowgli that since Shere Khan is gone, he can stay in the jungle. However, Mowgli’s feelings have changed, and he decides that he really does want to be a man As he, Baloo and Bagheera sit near the village, they see a young girl come out to fetch water. Mowgli is wonderstruck, and quickly approaches to help her carry the water; she then leads him into the village. Mowgli pauses at the gate to wave to Baloo and Bagheera.
MY TAKE: There are a couple of Disney animated movies on this list, but with the exception of Snow White and The Lion King, they’re not the ones I would have picked. This is one of the Disney movies that I never took a particular shine to, although I thought it was enjoyable. I couldn’t tell you why it was never my favorite. I do think Shere Khan is one of the scarier Disney villains — who’s not scared of a wild tiger? I think it’s probably on the list because it’s the last movie Disney personally supervised (he died in 1966), and because for the first time the animators used the voice characters as inspiration for the animated counterparts. This is particularly true of Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo, Louis Prima/King Louie, George Sanders/Shere Khan, and Sterling Holloway/Kaa. Phil Harris was a comedian and musician, and once worked with Jack Benny. He was also the voice of Thomas O’Malley and Little John in two other Disney movies, The Aristocats and Robin Hood. Louis Prima was a jazz musician; George Sanders is one of the best bad guys (though very smooth) of the Golden Era: he was in Rebecca, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and All About Eve, among many others. Sterling Holloway had a storied career as a voice actor, frequently playing comic characters: he was the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Pooh in Winnie the Pooh, and Roquefort, the mouse who helps the cats, in The Aristocats. Interestingly, Bruce Reitherman, the voice of Mowgli, was also the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh.
RATING: Okay; not terrific.