Today in Disney History, 1967: ‘The Jungle Book’ Debuted in Theaters

by | Oct 18, 2022 | Disney History, Disney Movies, WDW Blog

The Jungle Book debuted in theaters on October 18, 1967. Learn the history and trivia behind this Walt Disney Animation Studios classic.

Film fans were able to forget about their worries and strife for an evening and take in Disney’s The Jungle Book for the first time when it debuted in theaters in 1967. Interested in the development and reception of this iconic Disney classic? Here’s a quick history of The Jungle Book

Literary Inspiration 

When Jungle Book Premiered in Theaters Mowgli Kaa Screenshot

Screenshot courtesy of Disney

Like many early Walt Disney Animation Studios productions, The Jungle Book is inspired by a work of literature with the same name.

The film follows the story set up by Rudyard Kipling in his 1894 novel. That tale follows young Mowgli as he is raised by wolves in the Indian Jungle. Along the way, he makes friends with Bagheera and Baloo and tries to avoid the story’s villain, Shere Khan.

Jungle Book premiere Screenshot

Screenshot courtesy of Disney

Walt Disney first became interested in Kipling’s work in the 1930s. But the Walt Disney Company struggled to gain film rights to the story for 10 years. Disney was finally able to move forward after negotiating with director Alexander Korda, who made a 1942 live-action adaptation of the story.

Early drafts of the film’s artwork and screenplay stuck closely to the tone and storyline that originated in Kipling’s work. While it was important to follow a similar story, Walt requested several changes to the script early on to keep the film suitable for family audiences.  

Creating The Jungle Book 

Jungle Book release date Screenshot

Photo courtesy of Amazon

The Jungle Book featured several well-known actors of the 1960s. Mowgli was played by Bruce Reitherman, son of the film’s director, Wolfgang Reitherman. 

A voice actor named David Bailey was originally set to play Mowgli. However, his voice changed during the film’s production, which prompted Disney to use Reitherman instead. Reitherman did already have voice acting experience with Disney by this time. He had recently portrayed Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966)

Alongside Bailey, the film stars a full cast of voice actors who had already been working with Walt Disney Animation Studios. This includes Phil Harris (Baloo), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera), Louis Prima (Kim Louie), George Sanders (Shere Khan), and Sterling Holloway (Kaa). Cabot can also be heard in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as he provided the voice for Claude in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

The movie is known for its iconic soundtrack with hits like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You.” As such, it is no surprise that most of the songs in The Jungle Book were written by legendary Disney songwriting duo Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

As for animation, The Jungle Book was a departure from earlier Disney films as it was the first time animators were responsible for producing entire sequences rather than individual characters

Backgrounds in the film were hand-painted, and xerography was used to enhance the character design which was led by notable animator Ken Anderson. The film also followed Disney’s earlier tradition of reusing some animation from past films. The Jungle Book includes wolf cubs that were originally puppies in 101 Dalmatians (1961). You may also recognize the chase sequence by King Louie’s ruins from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

How The Jungle Book was Received After it Debuted

Jungle Book vintage movie poster Amazon Screenshot

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Initial critical and audience reviews for The Jungle Book were overwhelmingly positive. However, it is possible some of this was a response to Walt Disney’s death almost one year prior to the film’s release. 

During a 1990 theatrical re-release, Entertainment Weekly declared that it “isn’t a classic Walt Disney film on the order of, say, Cinderella or Pinocchio, but it’s one of Disney’s liveliest and funniest.” 

Still, The Jungle Book was considered a success, grossing approximately $23.8 million worldwide during its initial theatrical release on October 18, 1967, against a budget of $4 million. The film’s success continued to grow after its first theatrical run, grossing $13 million in domestic rentals by 1970. The film has left a lasting legacy thanks to some of the most memorable song sequences in all of Disney animation.

The Legacy of The Jungle Book Today

Jungle Book Debut Screenshot

Screenshot courtesy of Disney

Today, 55 years after it debuted The Jungle Book is one of the most underrated Disney films. It’s often left out of major merchandise campaigns and doesn’t garner too much buzz in the film world, save for the 2016 live-action remake

For a Disney animated film that tends to fly under the radar, characters and music from The Jungle Book have been featured prominently in Disney Parks for several years. The film has been featured in the two most recent Magic Kingdom fireworks shows with both Disney Enchantment and Happily Ever After showcasing The Jungle Book soundtrack and favorite characters.

In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Baloo and King Louie had a character meet-and-greet location for several years. Both were also recently featured in the Disney KiteTails show prior to its closing. The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, inspired by the 2016 live-action retelling, took place on the Discovery River Lagoon before the debut of Rivers of Light. And even earlier in the park’s history, the Theater in the Wild (now home to Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond) once housed a stage show called Journey into the Jungle Book. 

The Jungle Book was also the last film produced by Walt Disney, who sadly passed away on December 15, 1966. Production finished not long after, making this the first animated film released after his death. Today, the film’s legacy lives on through rewatches on Disney+ and through memorable moments inspired by The Jungle Book around Disney Parks. 

Today in Disney History, 1904: Debut of Peter Pan Stage Play by J.M. Barrie

Today in Disney History, 1980: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Opened at the Magic Kingdom

Posts by Brittany DiCologero

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Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.
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Authored by
Brittany DiCologero

Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.
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