Disney: The Jungle Book


Ahh yes the boy raised by animals story – taken from Kipling’s book – Disney managed to morph together a film with talking humans and animals actually understanding each other in a way they didn’t even raise an eyebrow in audiences. Why? Well because it merrily runs from one set piece to the next. Each piece introducing a new character along the way. Bagheera may be the godfather of young Mowgli, but it isn’t long before he is hanging out with Baloo the bear, a patrol of elephants, a kingdom of Monkeys, snakes, vultures and eventually coming face to face with Sheer Khan the Tiger.

This is probably one of the Disney animated films I watched the most as a kid on betamax. That Pinocchio, Dumbo and Snow White got many repeated viewings. And yet now as an adult looking back The Jungle Book feels a bit patchy. Mowgli sadly doesn’t grow up with us; so what we have is a pesky, curious and very immature little monkey boy in orange pants determined to live life his way and not be warned or told about anything.

Naturally the lessons to be learned here are numerous and boy does he land in trouble every time – But sadly he is far too impressionable by every new animal he meets. Baloo is far too cool and relaxed for the instructive Bagheera. King Louie has even more rhythm than Baloo and Kaa literally mesmerizes his mind. But with each encounter Mowgli seems to learn very little. It is mainly the company he is hanging out with that learns to be well-behaved around him. Baloo in particular sees the error of his ways and slowly starts to come round to Bagheera’s way of thinking – this of course only drives Mowgli away from him. If that boy needs anything, it’s a right good spanking. So watching this as an adult becomes fairly tiresome.

The animation has of course dated, but gracefully. A Blu-ray polish will fix that right up. The Jungle Book thankfully had more care and effort taken with its look – which can’t be easy when you are animating the jungle.

The music has also survived the test of time. In fact it probably is one of the few Disney animated classics to have so many memorable songs in it… “Trust In Me,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be like You.”

Each song is used primarily to get the message across from the latest encounter about what life is all about for them. Baloo is a bit of a slouch that only needs to get by on what he needs. Louie wants to be more like man and learn how to create fire (this one being the most lively as it actually drives story and action forward – and has some very amusing dancing monkeys), Kaa wants to hypnotize people (and then eat them!) and the Vultures (based on the Beatles) are outcasts themselves who are happy to have him join the gang.

It is all very clever, if also very episodic. Each segment is essentially a repeat of the last – and it is a format that they could have continued with should have desired to introduce new animals with aspects of life that are commentary on our own.

And is this not the point? For Mowgli to learn about his own humanity and take note of valuable lessons. Nope! Turns out he is far too stroppy and pig headed to do what any of his peers tell him. Even after he has had his show down with Sheer Khan – which is should be noted that even when given the sporting chance to run he decides to foolishly stand his ground and wait for the beast. This action of course almost costs him the life of a close friend – but even after sending the Tiger on his merry way he decides that he was pretty much right all along and will stay in the jungle. And then what happens? He catches sight of a girl!!!

Yes if feminists get on their high horses about the way women are depicted in films, then this is a prime example for men to get uppity about. Apparently our lives are testosterone fuelled and the only thing that can sucker us into changing our outlook in life is a pretty girl batting her eyelids at us.

Of course there are many documented Lennon’s, I mean Cases! where this is true. But that isn’t the point! Yes Mowgli being the dumb alpha male it works a charm on – and off he goes to the man village to start a new life.

There has been a sequel that didn’t get too much praise – but better is the live action film that came out in the mid 90’s with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli with a cast including Cary Elwes, Sam Neill, Lena Heady, Jason Flemming and John Cleese. It’s a charming take on the tale and a nice alternative to the talking animals and sing-along version here.

Still if it wasn’t for the colourful characters and the memorable tunes The Jungle Book may be a lesser known film. These strong points go beyond the call of duty to hide and cover up the cracks and weakness underneath.

Steven Hurst

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