Viewed 50 years later, The Jungle Book isn’t quite good enough to earn a spot alongside the original greats. . . . In the end, what draws Mowgli out of the jungle and back to the civilized world is, you guessed it, a girl—“Shanti,” who just might be the worst female character in the history of Disney cartoons.
I remember my surprise as a teenage cinephile on reading that Janis Joplin considered “The Jungle Book” the best movie of 1967. (What, not “Point Blank”?!) It would be some decades before I actually saw “The Jungle Book,” in the company of three grade schoolers, and grasped the hipster appeal embodied by the shambolic, jive-taking Baloo, described by the judgmental Bagheera as a “shiftless jungle bum,” and especially the scat-singing orangutan King Louie.
A definite product of its time, THE JUNGLE BOOK claims a divisive legacy—on one hand, it’s adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s racist and colonialist novel..., and its King Louie character, an ape voiced by Italian-American entertainer Louis Prima, is undeniably stereotypical. On the other, it’s evocative of its era; one defined by racial tension, anti-colonialist fervor, and distinct music styles such as bebop and British pop.