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Ten Things You May Not Know About Baloo and Bagheera
1. The name Baloo was derived from the Hindi word for “bear” (bhalu). He is a sloth bear, though he is supposedly a Himalayan brown bear in the 2016 live-action film. (Bagheera does refer to him as a sloth bear however.) Kipling himself described him as a “sleepy brown bear,” and his descriptions of Baloo are consistent with the sloth bear, as brown bears and Asian black bears do not occur in the Seoni area where Kipling’s story takes place.
2. The animated version of Baloo may seem familiar to Disney fans; he would later “reappear” as Little John in 1973’s Robin Hood, thanks to the new animation process of Xerography developed by Disney Legend Ub Iwerks. This process allowed animators to repurpose existing animated sequences and to incorporate them into new films, saving time and expense. Astute viewers will also note that Baloo’s dance with King Louie is the same as that of Little John and Lady Kluck (with a few wardrobe changes of course!).
3. The storyline for the original version of The Jungle Book, developed by Bill Peet, maintained the dark tone of Rudyard Kipling’s stories. However, Walt Disney wanted the film to be a fun adventure, and this led to major changes to both the story and characters, most notably Baloo. While very serious in the original book, he became a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky character in the final version of the film.
4. To best serve the whimsical nature of Baloo, Walt Disney suggested that Phil Harris voice the part. Even though the production team was initially resistant to the idea, Walt insisted that Harris was perfect for the role, particularly since his comical portrayal would help to further tone down the darker themes of Kipling’s original stories. Harris himself was at first nervous to perform the role, and he asked the directors if he could approach the role with his own unique humor and mannerisms. The results were so successful that the final version of Baloo was largely based on the personality of Harris himself.
5. Bill Murray performs the voice of Baloo in the live-action film. Coincidentally, Bill’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, played the part of Baloo in the 1998 direct-to-video release The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story.
6. Bagheera was voiced by Ben Kingsley in the live action version of the film, while Sebastian Cabot portrayed him in the 1967 animated classic. Sebastian Cabot’s voice should be familiar to Disney fans; he played the part of Sir Ector in 1963’s The Sword and the Stone, and was the narrator of 1977’s The Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh.
7. Bagheera is a melanistic leopard, commonly referred to as a black panther. So if he is a leopard, where are his spots? Well, in real life black panthers do have spots, but they are hidden by the black pigment in the rest of their fur (“melanism” refers to the development of the dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin). The effect is often called “ghost striping,” and gives the fur an effect similar to that of printed silk. No wonder Bagheera is so smooth and slinky!
8. Even though he is a black panther, Bagheera’s name means “black tiger” in Hindi (“bagha” means “tiger” in Hindi).
9. In the 1967 animated film, Bagheera discovers Mowgli in the jungle. In actuality, in Kipling’s story Bagheera was unaware of Mowgli’s existence until he heard rumors of a wolf family adopting a man-cub.
10. You can also find Bagheera in Central America…sort of. It’s there that you might come upon a spider known as Bagheera kiplingi. The spider has an herbivorous diet, which is unique for spiders. The name isn’t coincidental, it was actually named for Bagheera and Rudyard Kipling by George and Elizabeth Peckham, entomologists who specialized in the study of jumping spiders.