Still Cool After All These Years

“Good times,” as my friend, Rick Law would say. Back in 1966 when Walt Disney decided The Jungle Book needed a revamp, all of us Disney story men began to monkey around with Rudyard Kipling’s fanciful story and we managed to turn the rather dark jungle tale into a musical romp.

Rather than follow Bagerah’s advice and return to the man village, Mowgli decides to hang with Baloo the Bear. And, before he knew it, the man cub found himself hanging out in a different way as a bunch of King Louie’s monkey pals hauls him away. You’re looking at actual artwork from the 1967 Disney motion picture and it still looks pretty appealing. The painted backgrounds of Al Dempster still sparkle and the “old man” had finally accepted the Xerox process for inking the cels. Still, some found the rough, scratchy photocopy process a little off putting. Yet, the finished film still managed to find a considerable audience.

Veteran story man, Vance Gerry and I often watched story reels up in 2-11, the large screening room on the second floor of the Animation Building. On occasion we even watched the reels with Walt Disney. After each screening Vance and I would look at each other and shrug. The film felt uneven and episodic. Story points were raised only to be dropped. Did they really think Baloo the Bear was hip, we wondered? It was like watching your dad try to be cool. Embarrassing. On the other hand, the Old Maestro, Walt Disney kept approving our boards and the film continued briskly into production. We scratched our heads in wonderment, but continued to churn out boards until the movie was completed. Of course, Walt Disney never saw the completed film in color, but he did see the final story reels. This was good news of course. It meant our finished film had his blessing.

In 1967, I took my wife to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood to see the completed film in all it’s glory. It was here I learned an important lesson. The film maker doesn’t decide whether or not their movie is a hit. It’s the audience that makes the final decision. The audience decides whether or not your work meets their approval. As the years have passed, I’ve come to feel differently about Phil Harris and Baloo the Bear. I can finally view the Vulture sequence without cringing. I guess I simply had to grow into my own film. Maybe “dad” isn’t an embarrassment after all. And, just maybe The Jungle Book is cooler than I thought.

Orignal animation art from Walt Disney's The Jungle Book. Vintage 1967, it's still pretty cool today.

Orignal animation art from Walt Disney's The Jungle Book. Vintage 1967, it's still pretty cool today.