The Jungle Book is the nineteenth animated feature in the Disney Classics collection, and the last movie in which Walt Disney worked. Even though Walt had left the animation department to focus more on Disney's amusement parks and tv series, the idea of working on an adaptation of this story led him to be as involved as ever in an animated project.
After completing the production of 101 dalmatians, Walt asked Bill Peet () to choose a new project for their next animated feature. It was Peet who advised Walt on acquiring the rights to The Jungle Book, since he considered that it would be a good opportunity to develop great animal characters.
Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling, the script was originally Bill Peet's last screenplay for Disney, but his version of it was too dark, closer to the original story. So Walt didn't like it very much, since he preferred simpler tory lines with richer characters. In the end, the script was scrapped and Larry Clemmons stepped in to work on the new version.
Eventually Peet left the studio to work on personal projects, and would never return to work at Disney again.
The script would be passed on to Larry Clemmons, who hadn't even read the book. But Walt found this to be a good thing. He asked the production team not to read the book but to let the heart of the story and the characters define the movie. So the animators focused on developing great characters, but but the story would take longer to be defined. After being in production for many months, the movie still didn't have an ending.
The characters were designed by Ken Anderson, who took over the art direction for the film, and the animation supervision was entrusted for the first time to Milt Kahl. He established the basic animation style for the movie, working on scenes from Mougli, Bagheera, King Louie and animating Sher Khan almost single handedly.
Kahl was fond of recycling scenes from past features (see Sword in the stone for more on this), so throughout the films from this era, there are many scenes from different movies that look the same. One gesture that is present in almost all of his characters is what some people have dubbed the "Milt Kahl head swaggle"
The characters in this film are some of the best ones in Disney movies, but it wasn't only due to the great animation and script. The songs in the film are also perfect. Each character is beautifully represented with music. From Baloo's Bare necessities, to Kaa's Trust in me.
Originally, the songs were composed by Terry Gilkyson, but Walt thought that the songs didn't go well with the tone he wanted for the film. Instead, the Sherman Brothers were given a chance to make something new. Eventually, almost every song by Gilkyson was scrapped, with the exception of Bare necessities.
The movie was released almost one year after Walt's death and it was the first commercial success in many years for Disney.