This Rocky Was Not a Winner

Take a look at this great piece about the making of The Jungle Book from the Disney Insider archives. Written for us by Disney Legend, animator, and guest blogger Floyd Norman.

When you’re a Disney storyteller, you know there will be good days and those that aren’t so good. Creating an effective storyline for a Disney feature-length animated cartoon can be a daunting task — especially if your story director happens to be the Old Maestro himself, Walt Disney. Walt was a natural story editor with excellent instincts when it came to crafting a compelling film sequence. He seemed to know when the story was working and would resonate with audiences. However, should you fail to deliver the goods — or worse — lapse into poor taste, you were probably in trouble.

This was another of our many meeting with Walt for “The Jungle Book” back in 1966. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and tapped his finger impatiently — if you’ve ever been in a meeting with Walt Disney you clearly knew this wasn’t a good sign. The storyboards looked good and the new character offered all kinds of possibilities for humor. Plus, the story men were giving the pitch their best. The trouble was, it simply wasn’t working.

Floyd Norman sketch of Walt Disney

Floyd Norman sketch of Walt Disney

This was nothing all that unusual — sometimes Walt required convincing when something failed to please him. And director Woolie Reitherman had one last card to play. He told Walt that directing animator Milt Kahl was eager to begin animating the comical character. Once the master animator brought the cartoon to life, it was sure to be hilarious.

Disney reluctantly gave in, and allowed the storyboards to move to the next phase. This means the rough story sketches would be assembled into what was then called a “leica,” or story reel. Once that was done, the Old Maestro would take another look.

After a few weeks had passed, Walt was available for another meeting. However, this meeting would take place in 3-11, the large screening room on the third floor of the Animation Building. Walt’s arrival was announced by his loud cough, and he entered the room alone (as was his custom). The boss took a seat up front with director Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons, and a few other big shots. I made it a point to sit in the rear of the screening room (a good distance from Walt), because on this particular day, I preferred not to be seen.

You probably don’t know “The Jungle Book” sequence I’m speaking of because you’ve never seen it. Actually, very few people have seen the “Rocky” sequence — unless you were part of the film’s story team. Rocky the Rhino was voiced by comedian Frankie Fontaine, who was well-known for his television appearances as Crazy Guggenheim, a rather dim-witted bartender on the Jackie Gleason Show. However, what worked on national television was not ringing any bells at the Walt Disney Studio, and Walt hated every minute of it.

Rocky the Rhino from The Jungle Book

Rocky the Rhino from The Jungle Book

By the time the projectionist in the booth switched off the machine and raised the room lights, Walt was fuming. He’d already expressed his displeasure with the storyboards, and had now been subjected to the same awful sequence a second time. Hardly a laugh riot, the rhino sequence had been painfully agonizing to watch. Needless to say, most of us didn’t stick around for the choice words Walt reserved for our superiors. We simply shuffled out of the screening room and headed back to our offices, grateful that we had no part in this unfortunate situation.

A few months later, we finally completed story work on “The Jungle Book,” and some people tell me it’s a pretty good little film. However, they probably never knew the story of the famous rhinoceros that ended up on Walt Disney’s cutting room floor!

 

The Jungle Book Movie Poster 1967

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