Disney screened a newly restored and digitally enhanced version of The Jungle Book on Sept. 6 in Hollywood, preceded by a panel with the cast and crew of the last movie Walt Disney worked on himself. The screening fell on the 40th anniversary of the animated classic's premiere and took place at the El Capitan Theatre, across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where the film originally debuted.
The enhanced version of the movie restored the film as closely as possible to the way it looked four decades ago, said animator Andreas Deja, who worked on the restoration project and is among the new generation of Disney animators.
Attendees included Richard M. Sherman, who wrote five of the Jungle Book songs with his brother, Robert Sherman. "It was the last time Walt would personally be producing a picture, and we of course didn't realize it at the time, but what a treasure it was to see him at work making this last great animated film," Sherman said. "He was tough. He would never tell you if he liked what you did. He would tell other people that it was fantastic, but to you directly he would just say, 'It's OK,' and that was all you got."
Disney died of cancer during production of the movie, an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book. If the animated film had failed, it was feared that the whole studio would close.
Deja found archival footage and photographs of Disney working with the voice cast and the animators as he explained the story of "the Disney version of the Rudyard Kipling novel," and he also screened rare footage of the raucous taping of Louis Prima and his New Orleans jazz band as they voiced King Louie and the apes.
"Here's also a character that didn't make the cut in Jungle Book," said Deja, showing sketches of a frumpy-faced Rocky the Rhino. "Walt wanted the character out, and he didn't make it to animation."
In a panel discussion before the screening, Darleen Carr, who voiced Shanti, the little girl at the end of the film, remembered being groomed for stardom by Disney personally. "Hayley Mills [That Darn Cat!] was getting older, and they were looking to develop another little girl, so I got a contract with the studio, but I'm not sure they knew what to do with me," she said. "Walt was very supportive, though, and he always looked out for me."
The movie's human hero, Mowgli, was voiced by Bruce Reitherman, son of the film's director, Wolfgang Reitherman, who died in 1985. "I got to see how a movie was put together and how my dad worked with Walt Disney and the other great animators of the day," said Reitherman, who is now an Emmy-winning producer and cinematographer. Disney was the one who insisted that animators study the movements of the young boy as he played, jumped and kicked. "You can definitely see some of the movements that I did used in the movie," Reitherman said.
Carr added: "I know Jungle Book will outlive me, and I'm glad I got to know Walt that last year before he passed on." —Mike Szymanski