A Jungle Book Masterpiece Monday


Today’s Masterpiece Monday post is going to be a short one as I am currently hard at work researching my Atlantis: The Lost Empire article. I am featuring a sketch from The Jungle Book, a film which is admittedly not very high on my list of well-liked Disney films. In fact, the only scene in the film I really like is the final scene, where Mowgli sees Shanti and is instantly fascinated by her. That is why I choose to feature a sketch of this scene in today’s post. It is partially a character sketch used to experiment with the design of Mogwli and Shanti, but is also a story sketch, used to illustrate an idea for one of the key moments in the film. It was drawn by Ken Anderson, one of the story artists on the film who also had a history of serving as an art director as well.

Shanti was not a character in the original Rudyard Kipling novel, she was actually invented by Walt Disney  while trying to come up with a way to end the film. While the original script for the film, written by story writer Bill Peet, followed Kipling’s book very closely, Walt found it too dark for a Disney film. Peet ended up leaving the studio and Walt got together a new group of story writers, including Ken Anderson. He instructed them to use the characters from the book in their script, but to discard the plot entirely. The animators ended up working on the film from the middle out, starting with the sequences featuring fun characters like Baloo and King Louie, and then figuring out how the story would begin and end. When they did finally start animating the film’s end, the story writers got stuck. The characters they had created were so fun no one could come up with a good reason for Mowgli to want to leave the jungle. Walt came up with the idea of having him become smitten with a young girl  which causes him to follow her into the man-village. The story writers and animators hated the idea, they thought it was a cheesy and cliche ending that would feel tacked on. Eventually, they can to realise it would be a satisfying ending, so long as it was handled carefully.

This drawing depicts a very different possible direction for the scene than the one that ended up in the final film, a version that probably would not have worked as well. It would have been more broad and comical, showing Mowgli  unaware of how to interact with a human girl. The final version of the scene is more subtle about Mowgli’s attraction. One of the most important ingredients for creating a sense of subtle sincerity of this scene was Shanti’s song “My Own Home” written by the Sherman Brothers. Composer George Bruns wove the song’s melody into the score throughout the film to foreshadow the ending, giving the feeling that everything in the film had been slowly leading up to that moment. The song was sung by child actress Darleen Carr, who was at the studio working on another film at the time, and had a beautifully haunting voice that Walt loved when he heard it on the song’s demo. The final sequence, animated by expert animator Ollie Johnston, tied the perfect bittersweet bow onto the end of the film.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at my favorite character in The Jungle Book and now better understand the importance of her brief role in the film.


Image credit: The Walt Disney Film Archives. The Animated Movies 1921–1968

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