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Music

Why The Beatles turned down a cameo in Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’

I remember watching Disney’s 1967 animated film adaption of The Jungle Book in my youth and thinking the four mop-top vultures with English accents seemed remarkably familiar. I also recall later hearing from a friend that The Beatles had played the voice roles of the four cheeky birds. However, as it later transpired, The Beatles didn’t appear in the cast of the film. Instead, the characters were created as a tribute to the Fab Four and they had actually been asked to voice the characters initially.

In the mid-1960s, during the production of The Jungle Book, The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had approached Disney Studios about having the band appear in the film. As a result, Disney had his animators create the vultures specifically to be voiced by the band. 

When Epstein took the idea to The Beatles, John Lennon protested against it, explaining that they didn’t have the time for such projects and half-jokingly asked Epstein to tell Disney that they should hire Elvis Presley instead. Of course, Presley didn’t appear in the Disney project, and it’s unclear whether Epstein would have taken Lennon’s jocular suggestion seriously. In the final version of The Jungle Book, Disney ultimately swapped their rock ‘n’ roll vultures for an English barbershop quartet.

In The Jungle Book, the main character, Mowgli, sets off on an adventure through the jungle and encounters all sorts of different anthropomorphic creatures, good and evil. In one of the scenes, Mowgli encounters the four vultures named Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy, and Dizzy, each sporting a British accent. One of the birds has a voice and visual features that are very obviously parodying George Harrison. The bird has dark hair covering his eyes, and he is the quietest of the bunch, just as Harrison was in The Beatles.

Aside from Lennon’s reservations, other sources claim that the main reason The Beatles turned down The Jungle Book was “scheduling conflicts”. 

Watch the vulture scene from The Jungle Book below and see if you can figure out which bird is based on George Harrison.