Arts and Entertainment

A look back on Phil Harris in Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book

Almost 44 years ago now, Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book debuted as an animated story based on Rudyard Kipling’s short story collection compiled into a book entitled The Jungle Book about a “man-cub” that was raised by wolves in the jungles of India. Rudyard Kipling was born in India, and many of his writings were inspired by that setting in the world.

Kipling’s original short story tells of a baby boy named Mowgli, who happens upon a pack of wolves in the jungle. The mother wolf decides to adopt the “man-cub” and raises him as his own. Shere Khan the man-eating tiger infiltrates the wolf pack and demands to eat Mowgli, but the wolves drive him out. Meanwhile Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther set out to teach Mowgli as he grows up, and around the age of 11, Mowgli learns about Shere Khan and how he wants to take revenge. Mowgli steals a pot of burning hot coals to use against Shere Khan. Upon
the tiger’s arrival later on, Mowgli sets a branch on fire and drives him away. Mowgli soon realizes he must make his way to go and join a human village but swears to one day kill Shere Khan and bring his fur hide back to the wolf pack as a token to them.

During the earlier stages of production for The Jungle Book movie, Mr. Disney had passed away. Up until that point, Disney took a very active role in the creation of the film. He wanted to keep the storyline straightforward and allow the characters to portray the story as a whole. He steered the movie in a more family-friendly approach based on aspects of the original Rudyard Kipling story. A character that was added to Disney’s take on the story was King Louie, the orangutan.

Ten months after Disney’s death, The Jungle Book debuted and proved to be a huge hit. Worldwide, the movie grossed over $23 million, which back in the day made it the most successful animated film of its time. Upon the initial release, The Jungle Book was Disney’s second-highest-grossing animated film in the United States and Canada. The famous original song sung by Phil Harris (as Baloo the bear, of course) “The Bare Necessities” was nominated for Best Original Song at the 40th Academy Awards.

As you know, Phil Harris was born right here in Linton, Indiana. He was the voice of Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book. Baloo assisted Mowgli on his way back to “his own kind” and taught Mowgli the importance of taking time to relax. His role as Baloo inspired other Disney characters such as Little John in Robin Hood that debuted in 1973. Not surprisingly, Harris also played the role of Little John.

Phil was born on June 24th, 1904, and his real first name was actually Wonga, which is derived from the Cherokee word meaning “fast messenger”. He played a part in 29 films during his career, four of which were animated films where he voice acted. Along with movies he starred in, he also appeared in 12 different TV shows and 1 radio show.

Phil passed away on August 11th, 1995 at the age of 91, but his legacy will forever live on in movies, such as the Disney classic The Jungle Book.

Featured photo is a public domain photo of Phil Harris.

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