The Jungle Book was the last animated feature which was personally supervised by Walt Disney.
His first directive to the animators, story men, and composers was simple: "Have you ever
read The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling? Well, don't read it." Rather than again having his
animators feel straitjacketed by a classic story, Walt wanted them to adapt the characters
and situations into something modem, entertaining, and "Disney" As such, the straightforward
storyline and well-defined characters created a tightly-rendered, efficient and entertaining
One of the reasons for this economy of storytelling was the way in which the voice artists
were allowed to work. Walt Disney himself had suggested the offbeat casting of popular
radio and film star Phil Harris as the easygoing Baloo. Equally strong, personality-defining
voices were provided by George Sanders as Shere Kahn, Sterling Holloway as Kaa, Louis Prima
as King Louie, and Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera. Director Woolie Reitherman allowed the voice
actors latitude to ad-lib and alter their lines to suit their own personas and speech rhythms.
The story was altered as the actors worked, both individually and with each other.
Although successful, this experimentation proved costly and time-consuming. An entire
sequence invoking the character of a rhinoceros was developed and eventually abandoned,
since there was nowhere in the story sequence where the episode fit comfortably.
Released ten months after Walt Disney's death, The Jungle Book garnered some of the
strongest reviews of any Disney animated feature since the 1940's (somewhat biased,
no doubt, by the recent death of Disney). The film was a popular favorite too, and a
smash at the box office.
With The Jungle Book, the designers at Disney were able to enmesh the hard-lined
visual style made necessary by the use of the Xerox(tm) camera with the visual
lushness required of the story setting. The jungle is rendered with a depth, color,
and mystery that enhance the tale. The characters are allowed to function on a
different graphic level, which serves to push them forward in the screen plane,
and make them seem more "animated."
The character animation triumphs in The Jungle Book probably begin with the lumbering
hep-cat Baloo, whose vocal richness inspired much of the characterization finally animated
by Disney legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.
Frequent Disney voice artist Sterling Holloway's infectious performance of the
lisping snake Kaa so enthralled Walt Disney that he had the character brought
into the story again later in the film. Shere Kahn is an equally inspired match
of vocal to character development: the lugubrious arrogance, cutting wit, and
sheer power of George Sanders' reading informs the same traits in Milt Kahl's
animation of the character.
Why Rocky the Rhino Wasn't in The Jungle Book
Jim Hill reveals that the original animated feature was supposed to feature Rocky the Rhino, the nearsighted rhino who was slated to have a run-in with Mowgli and Baloo. "Rocky was supposed to be the featured player in a high energy slapstick chase sequence which was supposed to have occurred in the movie right after King Louie's palace came crashing down. Rocky's sequence for The Jungle Book actually got fairly far along in the production process before Walt decided to axe it. How far along? Detailed storyboards for the scene were created. And Disney Studios had even gone so far as to hire an actor to provide the voice for the short-sighted, short tempered rhino: singer/comic performer Frankie Fontaine. You wanna see what Rocky was supposed to look like? Go pick up a copy of Bob Thomas' "Building A Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire" (Hyperion Press, 1998). Then take a peek at that great picture of Walt and Roy the back cover. Just behind the Disney brothers is a Rocky the Rhinoceros storyboard. Or--if you'd prefer to see a picture of Rocky with the rest of the cast for Disney's The Jungle Book--go chase down a copy of Don Hahn's "Disney's Animation Magic: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at how an Animated Film is Made" (Disney Press, 1996). On Page 9 on that book, right under the title "Act 1 - The Idea" is a size comparison chart of the entire original cast of this animated feature. And there -- right between the vulture and the baby elephant -- is beady eyed, slack jawed old Rocky the Rhino. So why did Disney decide to cut this particular sequence out of the picture? Floyd Norman--animation legend, recent Winsor McCay life-time achievement award recipient and all-around nice guy--told me that Walt "just didn't find the business [that Disney's animators had come up with for this Jungle Book character] very funny." I've also heard that Disney decided to cut this slapstick-heavy scene because it came right on the heels of the King Louie palace sequence. Walt reportedly thought that it was bad moviemaking to put two high energy comedy sequences back to back. So--even though Frankie Fontaine had already recorded Rocky's voice, and the Jungle Book production had already cut together a leica reel of all the storyboards to be used in this sequence--once Uncle Walt said that the rhino scene was out, that scene was out. No questions asked. Legendary animator Milt Kahl was the artist who was supposed to animate Rocky. It was only after the rhinocero's big scene got cut out of the picture that Milt got assigned to Shere Khan--which many consider to be Milt's finest work."