Walt Disney died during production of this film. Many people wondered at what the studio's fate would be, particularly the animation division. The film performed extremely well at the box office, ensuring that the animators would not be put out of work. Had the film failed, it is likely that animation would have been closed down at the Disney studio.
The 19th animated feature in Disney animated features canon, and the last to be personally supervised by Walt Disney, himself. The first Disney film to be released after his death in 1966, just prior to the film's theatrical release.
The Vultures were originally going to be voiced by The Beatles. The band's manager, Brian Epstein, approached the Disney studios about having The Beatles appear in the film, and Disney had his animators create the Vultures specifically to be voiced by the band. But when Epstein took the idea to the Beatles, John Lennon vetoed the idea, and told Epstein to tell Disney he should hire Elvis Presley instead. The look of The Vultures, with their mop-top haircuts and Liverpool voices, are a homage to The Beatles; one bird's voice and features are clearly based on George Harrison's. When the Beatles departed the project, the song was rewritten as a barbershop quartet, to make it timeless.
Just after Mowgli runs away and Bagheera is trying to convince Col. Hathi to look for him, Hathi's wife Winifred announces if they don't help find him, she will take command of the herd. Hathi is outraged at the thought of a female leading. The joke is that elephants herds are led by a matriarch (female), while adult males generally live alone. As the only apparent female in the herd, Winifred should be leading by default.
When Gregory Peck was the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he tried his hardest to get a full-length animated feature film (most notably the The Jungle Book (1967)) not only nominated for Best Picture Academy Award but actually win the award. He resigned as president in 1970 when other members didn't agree with him about animated films being nominated for the award. It would be over twenty years later before the Academy would reconsider, allowing another Disney title, Beauty and the Beast (1991) to be nominated.
According to Elsie Kipling Baimbridge, Rudyard Kipling's daughter, "Mowgli" is pronounced "MAU-glee" (first syllable rhymes with cow), not "MOH-glee" (first syllable rhymes with go). She reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the gaffe.
Disappointed by the muted reception to The Sword in the Stone (1963), Walt Disney was determined to come back with a universally well-regarded film. He told his animation crew to "throw away" Rudyard Kipling's book "The Jungle Book" because the original concept storyboards were too dark and dramatic. During pre-production, Disney assigned animator Larry Clemmons to head story development on the project. He gave Clemmons a copy of "The Jungle Book" and told him, "The first thing I want you to do is not read it."
Kaa the snake is a completely different character in the film than he is in the original book. In the book, he is a friend and adviser of Mowgli, and the one who rescues him from the monkeys. In the film, he is a villain bent on eating Mowgli. Walt Disney felt that the audience would not accept the idea of a snake as anything but a villain. This is makes Kaa the first and only character voiced by Sterling Holloway to be a villain (not counting the antihero Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland (1951)).
Two items which have surfaced just after Robert B. Sherman's death, March 5, 2012: 1. This was the second-to-last movie Walt Disney personally supervised. The last one was actually The Happiest Millionaire (1967). And Terry Gilkyson had apparently written a full score initially, but Walt Disney found it too dark, so at the last minute, he threw it away and asked the Sherman brothers to replace it with a more 'fun' score. However, "Bare Necessities" stayed on at the insistence of others involved in this film, went on to be nominated for the Academy Award, and provided some inspiration for Elton John to wrote his "Hakuna Matata" (the same philosophy) for The Lion King (1994).
A scene with a near-sighted, short-tempered rhinoceros named Rocky, who was to be in the scene with the Vultures, was cut out of the script after Walt Disney figured that two comic scenes back-to-back was poor movie-making. Rocky was to be voiced by Frank Fontaine, who recorded his lines, and animation went as far as detailed storyboards.
Many cultural scholars (including Anthony Edward Schiappa, Susan Miller, and Greg Rode) have singled out the King Louie character as a particularly offensive racial stereotype for appearing to be "African American", especially given the political and civil rights climates in America during the time this film was released. However, he spoke in Louis Prima's normal voice (and, like most of the characters, had a physical resemblance to his voice actor), Prima being a white man of Italian descent.
Jazz singer Louis Armstrong was originally set to voice King Louie but another jazz singer Louis Prima was cast instead after Walt Disney feared that the idea of Armstrong who was African-American to play an ape would make the audience find the film racist.
Verna Felton's role as Winifred the Elephant (Colonel Hathi's mate) was her last before her death in December 1966 (one day before Walt Disney himself died). Her first role in an animated Disney film was also that of an elephant: she was the Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo (1941).
It was Walt Disney's lead story man and writer Bill Peet who first suggested making an animated version of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. Peet worked on the adaptation for over a year, but when Disney rejected his screenplay, Peet quit the project and left the studio. Disney and Peet ultimately didn't see eye-to-eye on the direction of the film, with the end result that their twenty-five-year professional working relationship ended. Sadly, their friendship was never renewed as Disney died during the film's production. Peet, however, had nothing but nice things to say about his former employer in his autobiography.
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman were hired as songwriters after Terry Gilkyson wouldn't distance himself from the "darker" side of The Jungle Book. His song "The Bare Necessities" was included in the film, and was the only song from the film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Two other songs written for the film by Gilkyson can be heard on the soundtrack CD: "Brothers All" and "The Song of the Seeonee." The wolf pack was supposed to sing a song called "The Song of The Seeonee". It ended up being cut after the story was extensively re-written and composer Terry Gilkyson's music no longer fit. The demo of the song is on the film's original soundtrack and is performed by The Mellomen. Originally the opening music was supposed to be a song written by Terry Gilkyson called "Brother's All". Like most of Gilkyson's compositions, the song was deleted. It was replaced by the overture composed by George Bruns.
The xerographic system, which had been used since 101 Dalmatians (1961), was further refined to combine both Xeroxed cels with hand-inked details. For example, while the basic animation on the village girl at the end of the movie was with Xeroxed cels, her mouth was inked by hand. The backgrounds also moved back towards the more traditional look of earlier films.
Ken Anderson storyboarded the final scene almost at the same time that Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman had finished "My Own Home". Everything that the Sherman brothers had envisioned while writing the song was up on the storyboards. They brought Anderson up to their office and played him the song and he immediately began to cry.
A notable character from Rudyard Kipling's book not featured in the film was Tabaqui the Cowardly Jackal, a sidekick to Shere Khan. He was likely not included as the idea of a canine failing to eat the film's protagonist was already used in the previous Disney animated film, The Sword in the Stone (1963). The role of a villain attempting to eat the film's protagonist was instead given to Kaa.
Even though Louie showed three fingers when he said to Mowgli have two bananas this may have been done on purpose as Louie showing two fingers may have displayed the 'V' sign which is an offensive gesture.
According to Richard M. Sherman the vulture's song (That's What Friends Are For) had a line which featured the word "hover". The plan was to have the singers pronounce it the same way as Walt Disney ("hoover"). Eventually, for unknown reasons, this line was removed.
According to Richard M. Sherman on the audio commentary, George Sanders (the voice actor for Shere Khan) refused to sing for "That's What Friends Are For". Bill Lee did the singing for Shere Khan, replacing Sanders.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Every story idea was supervised by Walt Disney including the ending in which a girl entices Mowgli to go to the man village. Animator Ollie Johnston hated that ending because he felt it was lazy and tacked on, but the more he worked on the sequence, the more he began to feel it was the right one. Later Johnston said that he was glad that Walt didn't listen to him.
A villainous character from Rudyard Kipling's novel was a hunter named Buldeo. Bill Peet's story treatment heavily featured this character. The hunter attempted to kill Shere Khan but was instead killed by Mowgli who then killed Shere Khan. When Peet left the studio, this character was removed by Disney so as to avoid any "heavy stuff" and the ending in which Mowgli defeated Shere Khan by using fire (man's red flower) was created. Buldeo later was one of the main antagonists in Disney's live-action adaptation The Jungle Book (1994).
After a studio screening of the finished film Walt Disney's personal nurse Hazel George came up to animator Ollie Johnston with tears in her eyes and told him that the final shot where Bagheera and Baloo walk off into the sunset was perfect and that it was just the way that Walt had gone out.