You’ve undoubtedly seen Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece The jungle Book, and you may even have turned to the pages of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories, but you’ve never experienced it like this. Now through January 8, 2023, the Walt Disney Family Museum invites visitors to literally step inside The jungle Book in the limited-time special exhibition, Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book: Making a Masterpiece. I was lucky enough to attend the opening ceremonies where exhibition curator Andreas Deja (animator on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion Kingand many more) was joined by three very special guests who lent their talent to the film.
Observant visitors may notice that many of the items in the gallery are from Andreas Deja’s personal collection. During a panel discussion, he shared that when Disney animators received bonuses for the success of Renaissance films, instead of buying a fancy car like his peers, he invested in collecting animation graphics. And since The jungle Book was the first Disney film he saw as a child in Germany, it has a very special place in his heart.
One of the most intriguing exhibits is not a work of art in the traditional sense, but a bound draft of Bill Peet’s screenplay and story sketches. Bill Peet was a longtime writer at Disney and had great success as a sole writer 101 Dalmatiansbut his follow-up efforts, The sword in the stone, was a commercial flop. When Walt Disney looked at his adaptation of The jungle Book, he found it too dark. A touchscreen experience alongside this design allows visitors to explore an unmade version of the film. Bill Peet left the studio because of the story changes, and budding animator Floyd Norman suddenly found himself in the film’s story department. Walt’s Edict: Don’t read the book.
First and second editions of Kipling’s books are on display, but Floyd Norman took Walt’s advice and did not read them. He revealed that while he never met Bill Peet because he was too shy to introduce himself, he would sneak into his office when the author went out for lunch to look at his story drawings The jungle Book, which gave him a good understanding of what Walt Disney didn’t want when he was moved to the story department. As for how he got there in the first place, Norman thanks Xerox for making it possible for gags he drew to be distributed around the studio, which eventually got Walt’s attention. Among his story contributions was the scene where the snake hypnotizes Kaa Mowgli.
As visitors explore the galleries, there are several interactive elements to try out. On the topic of Kaa, children can interact with the snake and feel what it’s like to be hypnotized like Mowgli. Another special guest at the grand opening was Bruce Reitherman, who provided the voice for Mowgli and is also the son of director Woolie Reitherman. He got misty-eyed talking about how special the experience was working with his father. Rare photos of Bruce’s live-action reference footage for Mowgli are featured alongside animation sketches based on his movements.
Bruce shared memories of recording his lines for The jungle Book, shared that it was not a small booth, but a large orchestra stage. A gallery of images from the voice recordings also hosts an interactive feature where guests can attempt to dub a sequence from the film. Clint Howard was a child actor when he provided the voice Hathi, Jr. He was unable to attend the event due to a filming conflict, but he included a video message revealing he was very concerned about recording a song because it was off-key. Richard Sherman helped him play through the song, and during the recording session he noticed a familiar silhouette from the sound engineer’s booth. During an intermission, Walt Disney stepped out to tell Clint that he was doing a wonderful job. Clint was, and still is, in disbelief at the interaction.
Darleen Carr was the film’s third special guest, singing “My Own Home” for “The Girl” (in reference to the name Shanti in The Jungle Book 2). your experience on The jungle Book felt like any other assignment at first. She had signed to Disney and was groomed as the studio’s next Hayley Mills, but mostly focused on recording music. She was invited to learn a song with The Sherman Brothers and recalls recording it a short time later. After Walt Disney’s death, her contract was canceled and she got steady work in other studios. It wasn’t until years later that she realized the little song was part of a film that was now considered a classic. In a gallery dedicated to The Girl, visitors can see some photos of Darleen, which provide a live-action reference for the song.
One of my favorite elements of the gallery is the way you can see the characters develop during the design process. It’s hard to imagine Baloo other than gray, but many colors have been explored.
One of the rare exhibits is an early color test for Baloo which would have had him in shades of yellow.
Along with production graphics, photos, marketing materials and a display of merchandise from the film’s initial release, there are also some fun photo ops including a chance to have a photo taken in King Louie’s throne!
As always, the gallery ties everything to Walt Disney and closes with a note about his death. During the conversation, Andreas Deja shared that although Walt never saw the final film in color, he approved the final rough animated sequences before his death. Essentially, he saw the film. And Floyd Norman said: “The jungle Book really is Walt’s movie.”
Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book: Making a Masterpiece is on view at the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall now through January 8, 2023. To visit waltdisney.org/junglebook for more information on operating times and ticket prices.