GDR #19: The Jungle Book (1967)

Remember Jungle Cubs? It was that other Disney Channel cartoon spin-off of The Jungle Book, and it followed Baloo, Bagheera, Louie, Shere Khan, and Kaa, but you know, when they were younger. Cubs, if you will. And stuff happened, but I don’t really remember what. I don’t think it lasted for very long, and no one ever excitedly mentions Jungle Cubs the way they do with Talespin. Anyway, the point of all this is that Jungle Book spin-offs never have Mowgli in them. The Aladdin TV show had Aladdin, The Little Mermaid had Ariel, and Simba had some cameos in Timon and Pumbaa, but no Mowgli, so far as I remember. They could have followed his jungle years living among the wolves, but they didn’t. You know why? Because Mowgli is annoying.

I have this weird thing with The Jungle Book where I remember it very fondly, and I always profess that I love that movie, but then when I watch it, I realize that I really don’t love The Jungle Book. This isn’t me being a book purist, either, because I haven’t read the original, which I hear is very different. There are some fabulous scenes in this movie, and even now, I’m wondering if I should take this all back, because…it’s The Jungle Book! I love The Jungle Book! But no, I don’t. I like The Jungle Book, but I don’t love it, and I’m blaming this on Mowgli being annoying.

And I know that’s not fair. If I had been raised by wolves in the jungle for eight or ten years, or however old he is, I wouldn’t want to go back to the man village, either. But sorry, Mowgli, just…even your voice gets on my nerves. I almost always sympathize with the Stuffy Nervous Sidekick. Sebastian, Cogsworth, the White Rabbit, I love them all. Here, we have Bagheera. Poor, long-suffering Bagheera. In the world, there are Bagheeras and there are Baloos, and I will always, always be a Bagheera. So when Mowgli’s being difficult, I don’t think, “aww, poor kid.” I think, “aww, poor panther.” If Mowgli were Harry Potter, then Baloo would be Sirius Black, and Bagheera would be Remus Lupin. (Kaa is Peter Pettigrew, obviously.)

And that makes Shere Khan Voldemort, of course. Shere Khan is an awesome villain for a number of reasons. First, he’s voiced by George Sanders, who is the best at being kind of smug and smarmy and fabulous. Second, he’s kind of sort of sympathetic, almost maybe. His motivation is understandable. He’s a tiger, an endangered species, so of course, he’s not going to like humans. I take it back–he’s not Voldemort–he’s the Magneto of the jungle. He wants to kill Mowgli because from his experience, humans kill his kind. He’s not a nice dude by any means, but you can see where he’s coming from. I’m pretty sure there was an episode of Jungle Cubs where Young Shere Khan first comes to distrust humans, but I can’t remember what happens. The third reason I love Shere Khan is because he’s so menacing without being overtly violent until the end of the movie. Like his scene with Kaa. He’s not being violent or over-the-top, but he’s still totally scary.

Speaking of Kaa, you didn’t think I was going to forget about Sterling Holloway, did you? It’s weird the first time you realize that Winnie the Pooh is trying to eat our hero. I had never noticed this before, but I guess some people see a lot of, um, inappropriate subtext in Kaa’s scenes with Mowgli. I will say that there is an awful lot of bad touching going on, but I would never have picked up on that unless it was pointed out to me. Moving on.

One of the reasons I always think I love this movie is because of the music. The music is awesome and catchy, and the score is lovely. But the thing is…okay, we may have an Unfortunate Racist Moment. And I’m conflicted. “I Wanna Be Like You” is my favorite song and scene from this movie, but…there are unfortunate implications going on in this scene that I understand even as I don’t want to, because it’s such a great song. Louis Prima, for the record, was an Italian-American jazz/swing musician, which explains why King Louie sings in that style, and I mean, the idea of an ape wanting to learn how to be human isn’t offensive in and of itself. I think the problem here is a combination of factors that, independent of each other, wouldn’t seem that bad, but put together, it makes you raise an eyebrow a little. I don’t know this for a fact, but it feels much less intentional than the racism in Dumbo, and more like Disney didn’t put some of the pieces together at the time.

And I can’t not mention the lack of ladies in this movie. For the animals, there’s a female elephant and a she-wolf who are both very minor characters, and for the humans, we have that one girl at the end who is there to tempt Mowgli away from the jungle with her feminine wiles. And a song. A song about how she’s going to fetch water until she gets married, and then she’ll stay at home while her daughter fetches the water, presumably until she gets married, because really, that’s all womenfolk are good for, isn’t it?

So, the next time I convince myself that I totally love The Jungle Book, I’ll be able to read this and remind myself that I like The Jungle Book, but I don’t love it. I just love Bagheera.

Favorite moment: I Wanna Be Like You

Because unfortunate implications aside, it’s still a super fun song that begs you to sing along with it.

Next time: The Aristocats!



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Filed under movies, The Great Disney Rewatchathon

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