Fixing the Story

This film, more than any other, appears to have defined my career at Walt Disney Studios. I can't tell you how many interviews I've given and will give on Walt Disney's final motion picture. Oddly enough, “The Jungle Book” was the one feature length animated movie I had tried to avoid.

On a quiet Monday morning back in 1966, Vance Gerry and I began reworking the story the Old Maestro had recently rejected. I had been suddenly plucked out of my downstairs office in the Animation Building and sent upstairs to C-Wing. This was Woolie Reitherman's domain and ground zero for the story development team. I had never worked in Disney's story department before. I hadn't worked on a television show or even a Disney short. Now, armed with a stack of outline pages from Larry Clemmons I found myself knee deep in production. There was no training period, trial program or even a welcome meeting. Nope. I was a Disney story man and there was no looking back. Somebody sure had a lot of confidence in my ability as a story teller because I can honestly say, I didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Naturally, I was too young and naive to realize what an amazing opportunity had just dropped into my lap. There were older guys and women who had labored at the Walt Disney Studio for decades who would never be given such an opportunity. Imagine being able to sit in meetings with Walt Disney? Because I was now a story man, meetings with Walt would become routine and I took all this for granted.

I'm often asked about those Disney days long past by media interviewers. More recently, the foreign press has been especially curious about “The Jungle Book” and what it was like working on the film. Lucky for me, the events of 1966 remain fresh in my mind. That includes the meetings with Walt that went well, and especially the meetings that went not so well. It was an exciting time and it went by very quickly. Unlike animation today, nobody had any idea what we were doing and cartoon making was no big deal. Walt Disney's “The Jungle Book” was in deep story trouble back in 1966. However, there were no fan boys and girls watching and reporting our every move as we dug ourselves out of trouble. I guess people had a life back in 1966, and that didn't include the inner working of a cartoon studio. It's honestly a shame that animated movies can't be made like that today.