Sunday, 17 April 2011

Bill Peet on "The Jungle Book"

Ages ago, I was looking through one of my older articles and I found that I wrote an article that I wrote about Ward Kimball's involvement on Snow White and, also ages ago - I was going to write to write an article about Bill Peet's involvement in The Jungle Book and suprisignly enough - I never got around to do it. But now, I think that I'm going to start writing articles that I should've written in the past that I wasn't able to do -  but now I feel that I have the confidence.

We all mostly know that The Jungle Book was the last Disney animated feature supervised by Walt Disney, himself. Also the fact that it was the end of the crowning era. The film was a very upbeat and more enjoyable compared to the dark, mysterious Rudyard Kipling novel. Of course, that was what Walt Disney wanted the version to be and originally when Bill Peet was going to supervise the entire story - like he did on 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone, his version was different from Walt had in mind. But, that's what we heard of - but in the story meetings - he seemed to have been very critical with the story and how it was going. I'm going to show some extracts from Bill Peet's autobiography in The Jungle Book pages:

When I had six or seven boards worked out, I presented that first phase of the story to Walt and the guys. Everyone was excited about the animation possibilities, and Walt was so pleased he came over to shake my hand. He also liked my idea for the song "Bear Necessities", something for Baloo the bear to sing---so I was off and running.

But when the time came to select voices for the characters the picnic was over. The voice I recorded for the leopard annoyed Walt. "That sounds like New York. A Brooklyn accent. That wouldn't fit into this Kipling thing." "He's a good actor," I said. "Why don't you try him again and see if he can get rid of the accent?

When we met for another story conference, I put the new and improved panther voice on the record player, and he listened, Walt was glowering at me. "Not one bit better," he grumbled. "Still Brooklyn!" "Okay" I said, "let's forget it. That took only half an hour on the sound stage. I'll find another voice. No problem."
There was a long silence while Walt kept glowering at me. Finally he said, "Can you animate the picture?"
In an attempt at nonchalance I replied, "Why not? I made an animation test while I was working on 'Pinocchio' just for the fun of it and it turned out surprisingly good." "What was it," Walt snapped, "the bouncing ball?" The bouncing ball test was the very simplest exercise for beginners, so of course Walt was being sarcastic. "No bouncing ball," I replied. "In fact it was quite complicated. It was an octopus in a panic scrambling over the wreckage of the sunken ship with all eight legs flying in all directions." Walt had no answer for that, and the conference ended with another long silence.

Walt was still fuming as he left his chair and headed for the door. Just before he made his exit he turned to us and said, "If you want to see some real entertainment then see Mary Poppins!"And that was the last time I ever saw Walt.
The conference happened to land on January 29, my birthday, and it was after five o'clock when the meeting ended, so it was dark outside. And as I headed for the parking lot, the guys kept their distance. It was the old, silent treatment again.
That evening, Walt's anger couldn't have been any greater than mine, as I drove home I was wondering if he intended to kick me downstairs again. Oh no, not this time, I said to myself, because I've got a present for you. Happy Birthday! I'm not ever going back there!!!
When I told Margaret of my birthday present she was not the least bit surprised. She was aware that keeping Walt happy and doing the books on the side was walking a tightrope and after twenty-seven years it was time for a new beginning.
In his autobiography, this was really about Bill Peet's last day as he was working on The Jungle Book. At first, Walt Disney liked the idea of Bill Peet's story - but the problem came in another story conference when there were story problems and that they had "the old, silent treatment". Walt Disney seemed to have been in a grumpy mood in that meeting that seemed to have put Bill Peet off the mood.

A lot of historians say that Peet only left the Disney Studios because of a heated argument with Walt Disney on The Jungle Book and that they couldn't make any agreements. But here, in that meeting - Bill Peet was worried that Walt would put "him downstairs" in a different department - and Peet didn't want this to happen and he quit the Disney Studio as a result.

From what Bill wrote, he doesn't add that there were changes on the story, because apparently, Walt got more critical toward s Bill because of the critical reception on The Sword in the Stone and he wanted a better, improved version of the Kipling story. In that case Bill Peet made a darker version of the film that Walt Disney wouldn't want to see himself and that the audience didn't want to see. He wanted some entertainment going on his film. But, Bill doesn't write that - it seems that they couldn't make an agreement on how the story should work.

From pictures that I've seen from Bill's version - the gags and dialogue seem to be similar to his other projects that he's worked on, but less character development between Baloo and Mowgli. Some of Peet's work on the film actually survived like when Kaa first encounters Mowgli and tries to hypnotize him while Bagheera was asleep, and also contributed to the Trust in Me song. Bill Peet should have got some credit for the film as he was the guy who started the project in the first place, and that he seemed to have contributed chunks on the film. There are some great storyboards of what Bill did on The Illusion of Life but it wouldn't be easy for it to be scanned.

In one of the meetings, Walt Disney dislikes the voice of Bagheera saying that it's "too Brooklyn", but in the final film, Bagheera was voiced by Sebastian Cabot and the voice also sounds Brooklyn or some type of accent - it doesn't sound Kipling also. Although I suppose that Walt was in the meeting following the Kipling version and after Peet left - he did it the way he wanted it to be done. Walt wanted none of the mysterious stuff that was in the original Kipling text and wanted this to be a fun, adventure story that all the audience would enjoy.

That's my commentary done for Peet's work on the film. Any other advice or agreement?


D is for Dress said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Purdy said...

Glad that I found someone writing of the tempestuous relationship b/t these two great men. Though they got on each others' nerves, you can tell they had great respect for each other.

I wish Bill Peet had written a little more in depth about his relationship with Disney. Maybe more on how he felt when Disney died, and if he had any regrets about not reconciling with him after the JB fallout. It would be very interesting to go to one of the many Walt Disney bios and look up Peet's name; maybe they might have something on how Disney felt with Peet's departure.

I just happened to watch the Making of Jungle book on youtube where a lot of the beginning concentrated on Peet's influence on the movie. Later on, Will Finn (an animator) commented how Peet had nothing but nice things to say about Disney in his autobiography. No dispresct towards Mr. Finn but I kept wondering if the guy even read the book! Not that Peet slandered Walt but I wouldn't exactly call his depiction of Disney 'great and kind.' All in all, I felt his writing of Walt quite detached of any real emotional element. What did you think when you read it?