Oct. 12, 2022 (WEST CHESTER, Pa.) — Walt Disney was the man that helped shape the future of animation, beginning with his short masterpiece, Steamboat Willie, where Mickey Mouse came to life the moment he popped on the screen. Nearly a decade later, Disney innovated animation with the first-ever full-length cartoon movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The final film he created was “The Jungle Book,” released one year after his death on Oct.. 18, 1967. Since then, Disney fans of all ages have recognized “The Jungle Book” as one of the best-animated films he ever created.
But how did it become the movie that everybody knows and loves?
Walt Disney’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories began as far back as the mid-1930s when he was still animating the “Silly Symphony” shorts and the then-future smash hit, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Disney considered them “an ideal subject for Disney animation,” as author Jim Fanning describes it in “The Disney Book.”
Nearly three decades later, he bought the screen rights to it.
Apart from the characters, the movie hardly resembles the source material.
Disney felt the original stories were too somber as he read through them. So, he asked the famous songwriting duo Sherman Brothers to compose more upbeat songs, one of them being “The Bare Necessities.”
Another significant change from the source material was the characters. According to Fanning in “The Disney Book,” “Baloo, the dignified, lawgiving bear of the original book, was transformed into a ‘jungle bum,’ and the relationship between the carefree bruin and the Mowgli, the jungle boy, became the heart of the film.”
A character that Disney crafted not in Kipling’s book is King Louie, one of the film’s villains, whom Italian American jazz artist Louis Prima voiced. Interestingly, the filmmakers wanted to have famed artist Louis Armstrong speak the character but rejected the idea out of fear of racism, primarily after racial unrest in America throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Despite the voice actor change, the film still sparked controversy for portraying King Louie as an orangutan, a racist portrayal of African Americans.
In recent years, the Walt Disney Co. has also been hesitant about the “I Wanna Be Like You” segment of the film because of the outfit one of the characters wears. While Bagheera attempts to retrieve Mowgli from King Louie and his troop, Baloo appears to distract King Louie by dressing up as an orangutan.
This drew criticism for having blackface, a racist portrayal of black people from another race, especially whites, especially when Africans were still under slavery in America through half of the 19th century.
For these reasons, Disney+ added a “Content Advisory Warning” to the movie, which warns viewers about the racist portrayal, and invites them to the Walt Disney Co.’s “Stories Matter” campaign website.
Despite racism accusations, the movie became critically acclaimed and currently has a “Certified Fresh” rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It also inspired two remakes, one in 1994 and the other in 2016, and two sequels “The Jungle Book 2” and “Mowgli’s Story,” the most remakes of any Disney animated film thus far.
Though Walt Disney died a year before he had a chance to see his work, he still left a legacy in the animation and film industry, and “The Jungle Book” is one of the films still popular today.
Ben Slomowitz is a fourth-year media & culture major. firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype.” Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype | National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of African American History and Culture, 22 Nov. 2017, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype.
- C, Alexander. “Walt Minstry: Jungle Book’s Blackface Performance.” Music 345: Race, Identity, and Representation in American Music, 27 Apr. 2015, https://pages.stolaf.edu/americanmusic/2015/04/27/walt-minstry-jungle-books-blackface-performance/.
- Fanning, Jim. “The Master’s Final Film Triumph.” The Disney Book: A Celebration of the World of Disney, DK, Penguin Random House, New York, NY, 2016, pp. 66–69.
- “The Jungle Book.” Rotten Tomatoes, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1031385-jungle_book.
- “Stories Matter.” Stories Matter – The Walt Disney Company, The Walt Disney Company, https://storiesmatter.thewaltdisneycompany.com/.
- Voytko, Lisette. “Here Are 5 Movies Disney plus Put ‘Cultural’ Warnings On.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 June 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2019/11/13/here-are-5-movies-disney-plus-put-cultural-warnings-on/?sh=4c03f3f6711c.
- “Watch The Jungle Book: Full Movie: Disney+.” Watch The Jungle Book | Full Movie | Disney+, 12 Nov. 2019, https://www.disneyplus.com/movies/the-jungle-book/5trzAb4Rz3F9.
- Weinert-kendt, Rob. “Cutting through a Cultural Thicket.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 June 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/theater/the-jungle-book-comes-to-the-stage.html?_r=0.