This month, Disney’s releasing a live-action semi-remake of its classic 1967 animated film “The Jungle Book.” The final film Walt Disney himself worked on before his death, it’s gone on to become one of the all-time Disney classics. Especially so its two most famous songs, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”
Over the years, Disney’s made plenty of spinoffs and versions of its version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel. Here’s my thoughts on a few of the animated spinoffs produced over the years.
The 1990 animated series “TaleSpin” was basically a mix of “The Jungle Book,” “Cheers,” and 1930s-style pulp adventures/movie serials (think “Indiana Jones”). Anthropomorphizing even more so the original film’s characters, Baloo now works as a pilot in the fictional tropical city of Cape Suzette. The cast includes: Baloo’s boss Rebecca (in a dynamic resembling Sam and Rebecca on “Cheers”), from who Baloo wants to buy back his beloved cargo plane someday; Rebecca’s young daughter Molly; and Kit Cloudkicker, a street-smart orphan bear cub that works alongside Baloo (resembling Mowgli and Baloo’s dynamic in “The Jungle Book”).
Shere Khan and King Louie also are in this series; Khan is a Lex Luthor-like vastly wealthy and powerful CEO. Louie runs a seaside bar that’s Baloo’s favorite watering hole; Louie’s monkey minions from the movie are his bartenders/staff here.
Keeping with the Indiana Jones-style adventures, the show’s setting is a version of the 1930s. The characters have favorite radio shows, all the planes are propeller driven (an episode revolves around an experimental jet engine), and the cars are largely Studebakers or Model Ts. The airplanes tend to be a bit fanciful, as “air pirates” (led by the show’s main villain, Don Karnage) are a constant threat to Cape Suzette and Baloo.
The show did well as part of “The Disney Afternoon” lineup. “TaleSpin” finally got a DVD release several years ago, three volumes covering all 65 episodes.
Here’s the show’s opening credits. Yes, it’s a catchy theme.
“The Jungle Book 2”
2003 saw the release of “The Jungle Book 2,” an animated theatrical sequel to the original movie. The film’s plot saw Mowgli miss his jungle friends, and head back in search of them, despite the danger he’s in from Shere Khan.
“Jungle Cubs” was a 1996 animated series that ran on ABC for two seasons of 21 episodes. The show’s premise was that of a 1980s-era “baby versions of adult characters” series, despite such a premise being extremely passe/largely dead in animation by the mid-90s. The show saw Baloo, Louie, Shere Khan, Kaa, and other “Jungle Book” characters as childhood friends trying to survive in the jungle, and learning various life lessons along the way.
Here’s the show’s opening credits, using “The Bare Necessities” as sung by singer Lou Rawls.
“House of Mouse”
Back in the early 2000s, ABC aired Disney’s anthology TV series “House of Mouse.” The show’s premise was a nightclub run by Mickey Mouse and his friends, catering to every Disney animated character up to that point. Everyone from Gus Goose (as the House’s chef) to Horace Horsecollar (as the A/V equipment guy) to Kuzco would appear at the House of Mouse. Each episode saw newly-made animated shorts air, as well as some reran from the predecessor series “Mickey Mouseworks.”
In one episode, Mickey, Donald and company had to put up with “King Larry” visiting. King Larry was described by Minnie as “King Louie’s identical twin brother,” who behaved just like Louie. Larry spent the episode wreaking havoc, though he apologized for his behavior by the end. We then see a variation of “I Wanna Be Like You,” as sung by Larry and Mickey.
While the episode was enjoyable, I always wondered why they used “King Larry”, and not Louie himself. Eventually, I found out why. In the original “Jungle Book” movie, Louie was voiced by musician Louis Prima. Louie’s later use in spinoffs like “TaleSpin” annoyed Prima’s widow, who sued Disney over royalties. As a result, Disney opted to drop Louie as a character in new “Jungle Book” projects during the 2000s. Louie, for instance, also doesn’t appear in “The Jungle Book 2.” However, the 2016 live-action “Jungle Book” movie uses Louie, albeit with the voice/mannerisms of actor Christopher Walken, so maybe things have finally been sorted out?
Here’s “House of Mouse”‘s version of King Louie’s classic song, here titled “I Wanna Be Like M-O-You”: