He’s still my top cat after all these years. It’s nice to sketch Bagheera again. It’s been awhile since I’ve drawn this delightful jungle cat. If you’ve seen Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book” you’ll know that Bagheera was the voice of reason in our screen story. As a matter of fact, this story point was one of the few things that survived Bill Peet’s adaptation of the Kipling novel. It was the evening meeting of the elders early in the motion picture. It’s in this fateful gathering that Akila decides that the man cub can no longer remain in the jungle. Mowgli has to be returned to his rightful home in the man village and the wise Bagheera is charged with this important task.
Bagheera was voiced by the talented, Sebastian Cabot. The veteran actor had already appeared in a number of Walt Disney films back in the sixties. His rich, sonorous voice suggested authority, stability and wisdom. Cabot was the perfect choice to play the no-nonsense panther who would make sure the man cub would be returned home. Voice casting was a serious task back in 1966 when Walt’s story team began the daunting task of retooling the film. The importance of finding the perfect voice for our characters was not taken lightly. None of this was my concern back in early 1966. I knew Bill Peet had left the film and suddenly everyone was wondering what would happen next. I had purposely avoided the feature film to pursue other opportunities at the Walt Disney Studio. You can imagine my surprise when my boss, Andy Engman called me into his office one quiet Friday afternoon to inform me of my new assignment in Walt Disney’s story department. That meant the movie I had tried so hard to avoid was suddenly my concern. “The Jungle Book” remained a priority on Walt Disney list and he was determined to complete the animated motion picture. Now, the critical job of Disney storytelling was suddenly mine. A glorious opportunity to be sure. There was only one catch. I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.
Now, it was Monday morning and I sat at my large desk in the storyroom wondering what to do next. Fortunately, I knew the characters in the film, and knowing the characters is always a great first step. What would they do next, I wondered? I learned that as a writer it’s sometimes a matter of following your characters and they’ll lead you where you want to go next. Our characters were so well defined in “The Jungle Book” it was often a matter of simply letting them lead us through the story. This film was my first story assignment and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to launch into this new phase of my career with the greatest story editor in the world. Walt Disney was an intuitive storyteller and always knew what would work. The lessons I learned from Walt have served me well throughout my career.
Bagheera was a delightful character to work on in“The Jungle Book.” He was the perfect counterpoint to the free spirited, Baloo the Bear and the two of them were a marvelous pair. Much of the film’s energy is driven by these two because each has their own agenda. In the end, they decide that what has happened has been for the best and the two of them head off into the jungle content to live with the bare neccessities of life. Hardly an awesome screen story, but as the Old Maestro often said, “It’s all the story you need.”