The story is based on the Rudyard Kipling book (though very loosely, mind you) about a young boy named Mowgli is raised by wolves in the jungles of India. When the man killing tiger Shere Khan (I dare you people to quote William Shatner!) returns to the jungle, the wolves think it's best if he was with his own kind. So they trust a panther named Bagheera to get him there. One problem: Mowgli doesn't want to go. After some failed attempts and nearly escaping a hungry python named Kaa, the panther leaves Mowgli behind only to meet with the Dude of jungle animals, Baloo the bear who teaches Mowgli about a care-free life in the jungle and promises to keep him safe in the jungle. That is, until the kid gets kidnapped by monkeys. After Baloo and Bagheera save the kid, Bagheera warns Baloo about Shere Khan and this changes the bear's mind. Upset about Baloo's change of heart, he runs away only to bump into not only Kaa for a second time, but also the tiger. Mowgli escapes death thanks to Baloo and some Beatles-impersonating vultures that tell him that Khan is afraid of fire. They continue on their way after the fight only for Mowgli to go back to the man villiage on his own thanks to being love struck by a village girl fetching water. Satisfied with Mowgli being "home", Baloo and Bagheera return to the jungle to live the rest of their lives.
Let's talk about the best thing in this movie: Shere Khan. Voiced by George Sanders, this one of the best Disney villains out there. Shere Khan reminds me a lot of Maleficent: there's not that much motivation behind him (he just hates man) he's just such a bad-ass and so confident that he really has nothing in the world to fear and that comes across as really intimidating. What's odd though, is that he appears near the end of the film, but the film builds this character up all throughout the film and thankfully, he lives up to his reputation. The animation from Milt Kahl, again, is superb animation. I just love that design too. I think the best scene with him is when he's talking about the man-cub with Kaa the snake.
Speaking of Kaa, he's a good character too. He also comes across as pretty threatening in his first scene, but he quickly gets outwitted by Mowglii and outclassed by the tiger later. There's also a lot of jokes here about how huge this snake is. (Don't take that the wrong way...) Oh yes, and that voice. There's something about Sterling Holloway, just how big and almost scary this snake is with that voice just seems funny to me. I have posted some Kaa model sheets when I first started this blog and it remains one of my most-viewed posts. That should probably tell you how popular the character is.
That and the voice acting is pretty good. This had, back then, one of the biggest star-studded casts for a Disney film. At least back then the voices actually fit with the characters. They become one with the character. I think another notable performance here is Phil Harris as Baloo. He does a nice job as this laid back and friendly person and his voice reflects that. And I'll give this movie credit, it did introduce a new generation to a great entertainer.
There is, however, only one thing bad about it and that it doesn't follow it's source material that much. I read the original books by Rudyard Kipling when I was in the fifth grade and I have to say, they're better. They're not only more fascinating, but a lot darker too. The way the animals view the human world is a pretty fascinating commentary. The characters are more developed too and it follows Mowgli in a coming-of-age story. It's kind of weird to me because Disney's good at making those kind of stories (just look at Bambi!) and I think that they could have accomplished that to make the movie a little better. I mean not exactly like the book but just enough from the book to make it more engaging. As far as The Jungle Book is concerned, there are better animated adaptations out there, an interesting example being The Adventures of Mowgli: a Russian adaptation that follows the book much closer and in five 20 minute episodes. The designs were cool and the animation is pretty nice, though not as good as the animation in the Disney one. Even though I can't speak Russian, I could still follow along with what was going on since I knew the story and I found it vastly superior to this one. Just be warned, it's pretty damn surreal.
Aside from that, the film as it is is is one I still like but I would put in the "okay" group. Despite not following the book that close, it still has got some good characters, creative moments, decent animation and music, so it's worth several viewings. It's your basic Disney film: what you see is what you get. I still recommend watching this movie. You'll likely enjoy it as much as I did.