The Jungle Books, part 2

We saw the new, live-action The Jungle Book over the weekend. Actually, I saw it about one and a half times, but I think I’ll save that for a whole ‘nother post. So, instead of an anecdote that segues into the review, we’ll just hit the ground running (much like Mowgli).

Disney’s The Jungle Book is a superb blend of their 1967 animated classic and Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. I don’t know whether the credit for that should go to director Jon Favreau or screenwriter Justin Marks, but there’s plenty of kudos to go around. This newest film draws upon Disney’s earlier Jungle Book for the characterizations and the plot. Mowgli, threatened by the tiger Shere Khan, is being escorted out of his jungle home by Bagheera, during which journey he meets Kaa (who hypnotizes him), Baloo (who befriends him), and King Louie (who wants something from him). The rest of the bits that add detail to the story or flesh out the world, however, — the Peace Rock and the Water Truce, Ikki the Hedgehog, and even the scars and scrapes on Mowgli’s body from growing up in a jungle playing with wolves — are all drawn from Kipling’s tales.

The first time I attempted to watch the movie, I found myself nonplussed at how it was borrowing so heavily from both sources without capturing the (very different) essences of either. A lot of that attitude probably had something to do with the fact that I was often distracted from what was happening on the screen and, indeed, spent a lot of time out of the theater entirely. When I had the opportunity to see it again without having to divide my attention, I not only enjoyed it much more but also gained an appreciation for how the filmmakers gave a new tone and depth to the Disney version of this story simply by incorporating elements from Kipling’s writing.

Although the story may be from the animated film and the world it takes place in is from Kipling’s books, the main character who moves through both is a Mowgli unique to this version. This Mowgli is a boy who has been raised by wolves but can’t shake his tool-using, problem-solving human nature. This use of “tricks” separates him from the rest of the jungle inhabitants even more than his relative lack of speed, strength, or agility. This is a Mowgli who has more self-doubt than Kipling’s protagonist but grows to become more active and confident than the boy we see in the animated feature. In the cartoon version, Mowgli is [SPOILER] enticed into the man-village when he first lays eyes on a female of his species while Kipling’s Mowgli [SPOILER] largely rejects the ways of men until he is much older. The Mowgli we have here takes a third way by [SPOILER] staying in the jungle but embracing the human qualities that make him unique.

And I have to say that the kid who played Mowgli in this new movie deserves an Oscar. I’m not saying he’s Lawrence Olivier, but there isn’t a single moment that he doesn’t sell the idea of being in the jungle, conversing with animals. I’m pretty sure at no point during filming did Neel Sethi, the actor, actually exchange lines with a real talking bear but you’d never know it from watching him.

I’m sorry to say that I was less happy with Baloo’s performance. I’m fond of Bill Murray as an actor, so I’ll toss out the idea that maybe the problem wasn’t his delivery of the dialog as much as the CGI bear’s inability to capture some essential element of his expression or mannerisms or a twinkle in his eye. However, Bill’s acting has gotten a lot more subtle and reigned in than it was back in the days of Stripes and Ghostbusters… Whatever the reason for it, I just could not warm up to his stammering, uncertain Baloo. Phil Harris gave us a Baloo who was boisterous, jovial, and as full of life as he was easy going. Murray’s Baloo is just a little too sleepy for me.

The one bright exception is his rendition of “The Bare Necessities.” His performance of the song is so much livelier than his delivery of Baloo’s spoken dialog that I had to triple-check that it was actually Bill Murray who sang it.

The songs surprised me, though. The world of the film may have talking animals, but it didn’t feel like a world that naturally has musical numbers. It’s easy to let it get away with “The Bare Necessities”; you can buy that Baloo’s the kind of bear who sings and it works in that sequence. When Christopher Walken’s King Louie breaks into “I Wan’na Be Like You,” however, my suspension of disbelief suffered a bad sprain. Walken does a fine job with the song, make no mistake. But his King Louie is in the middle of putting some serious, Vito Corleone-style pressure on Mowgli, and as good as the song is, it only serves to pull you out of the scene. Strangely, Kaa’s “Trust In Me” (which gets the “Most Improved” award for the soundtrack) could have been included more organically than any of the other musical numbers but instead only plays over part of the closing credits.

These are minor complaints, in truth. The film is fun, exciting, and even moving at times (I found I had something in my eye during the scene where Mowgli says good-bye to Mother Wolf). Although there were scary parts, RU and MeToo both proclaimed it to be good. The Wife and Granma Cake agreed.

I’m pleased to say that, as with Cinderella, Disney has succeeded in crafting a terrific live-action update. It works because it is heavily steeped in the source material while adding depth and vividness. You and your kids should go see it.

The Jungle Books, part 1

The Jungle Book, Disney’s latest live-action retelling of a classic animated tale, hits theaters this month. Will it be respectful of its source material, like the wonderful Cinderella, or will it be a revisionist take, like the indescribably stupid waste of time that is Maleficent? My guess is that the story will differ in some ways from the 1967 animated feature but will still try to stay true to the characters — after all, aside from the music, the characters are what you remember from the original, not the details of the plot.

 

Well, however the new film turns out (and since writing this I have had the chance to see it one and a half times), this week is Jungle Book Week at the Blog of the Dad! We’ll start with a review of the original animated feature (which you’ll find below). Later this week, you can expect a review of the new movie as well as a look at the Rudyard Kipling stories.

We finally watched the original Disney Jungle Book (1967) just this week. It was the first time the kids had seen it, and I couldn’t tell you how young I was when I’d last viewed it. As it turns out, there really isn’t much to it besides the music and the characters.

Oh, sure, the story does get set up at the beginning. We see how Mowgli gets found as an infant and adopted into a family of wolves. The next thing that happens is the wolf pack has a meeting and declares that Mowgli, now a boy, must leave the jungle and return to a man-village. It’s explained that this is for his own safety, as the tiger Shere Khan has returned to this part of the jungle and would surely kill him. That’s it for the plot.

Everything that follows is either pure character interaction or a musical number until the much talked-about Shere Khan finally shows up at the end. I’m not complaining, though, not when the songs are as good as “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” My kids may not have seen this movie before but they’re very familiar with those two tunes. I can’t think of too many Disney songs more than 30 years old that get played on the kids’ music station as much, let alone ones that get new covers every now and then.

Watching the push and pull between Bagheera and Baloo over Mowgli is no small part of the entertainment, either. Bagheera is the responsible one who wants what’s best for Mowgli. He finds the boy as an infant and places him in a home, then later volunteers to escort him out of the jungle. However, Bagheera also gets frustrated with Mowgli’s insolent attitude. Easy-going Baloo, on the other hand, would be happy to indulge the boy endlessly… but I think we share Bagheera’s doubts that he would make a good caregiver in the long run. It’s the combination of Baloo’s tender-heartedness and Bagheera’s maturity that successfully gets Mowgli, er, dropped off at the nearest man-village.

Unfortunately, I had to put Z to bed immediately after the bit with King Louie and didn’t make it back until Shere Khan was running for the hills with a flaming brand tied to his tail. So, there’s about a quarter of the movie that I totally missed. And, yes, it’s likely that the plot returns to the foreground during that part. I stand by my assertion, though, that what makes The Jungle Book a worthy classic are the songs and the sequences that lead into them. Well, that plus the fact that any movie where Phil Harris voices an animated bear is automatically worth watching.

Let’s not neglect the animation. The character designs are bursting with personality. The animated facial expressions and body language perfectly map the voice actors’ performances onto animal bodies. Just watch Louie dancing or Mowgli walking away dejectedly. Wow!

This is not a movie I have felt the need to own, certainly not at the prices I’ve been seeing. However, it has been one that I’ve wanted my kids to see for quite a while and I’m glad we finally have. It’s light, zany fun, and it’s always held a special place in my heart even if it will remain absent from my video collection.

From Rojo to Verde

Located on a charming stretch of Highland Street in between Rhodes Park and Rushton Park, Rojo offers a diverse menu of Latin and American food. We had stopped there for dinner the day we arrived in Birmingham. As it was a lovely day, we elected to sit at one of their many outdoor tables.

I didn’t even glance at the American side of their menu; their taco choices alone were more than enough to present me with difficult decisions. I cannot now recall exactly what I ordered, nor did I take pictures (for reasons which will soon be obvious). I do remember that I enjoyed whatever it was I had settled on, and everyone else seemed to like their food well enough, too (for the most part).

There is just one specific detail about the cuisine I can share: they put jalapeños in the guacamole.

Unfortunately, it was MeToo who discovered this. Their guacamole is rather chunky, and it apparently was a whole, large slice of jalapeño that ended up in her mouth. When she bit into it and started to panic, we assumed she had bitten her tongue or the inside of her cheek. In the moment or two it took us to realize the situation, MeToo had swallowed it whole in her distress.

The following five to ten minute period was a frenzy of intermittent vomiting. We’d think she was done, so we’d wipe off our hands and try to return to our own dinners when she’d suddenly start to retch out another mouthful. The biggest, and final, regurgitation happened just when the Wife had run to get more napkins. I ended up catching most of that in my hands as it overflowed the wadded, damp piece of paper towel I held under poor MeToo’s chin. (Gross, but still not the worst thing I’ve had to deal with in the past few weeks.)

After that storm passed, the Wife unexpectedly received an important business call. She went elsewhere to take it, and while she was away, MeToo announced in a weak but urgent voice that she had to go potty. Well, I’m not going to leave my five-year-old daughter and one-year-old son alone, unsupervised, and outside. In these situations, I’ve just got to gather the kids up and take them all to the bathroom with me. (Rojo has at least two unisex bathrooms and I’m happy to report that the one my three kids and I piled into did have a fold-down baby changing station — not that we needed it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.)

Although this phase of the adventure didn’t take long, by the time we returned to our table to finish dinner, some diligent waiter had cleared it. Oh, well. Not all of us were quite finished but we’d all definitely had enough.

Despite the distressing events that derailed our meal, I’d still highly recommend Rojo. It was family-friendly, situated in a lovely spot, and what food I did have was tasty. Just avoid the guacamole if you don’t like it spicy, and if you sit outside you should probably avoid the corner table.

ICAN, You Can, We All Can at Birmingham

We went down to Birmingham, Alabama a couple of weeks ago so the Wife could attend the ICAN conference there. ICAN is the International Cesarean Awareness Network, which seeks to (and I’ll just quote directly from their website here) “improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean.” The Wife has long been a member, as we had tried for home births for our previous three children but, alas, ended up with a c-section each time. (We’re big proponents of VBAC as, well, we’re still hoping for a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean for Sprout.)

I can’t tell you about how the conference went, however, as my job was to wrangle the children while the Wife was at whatever sessions or events she wanted to attend. Instead, I’ll be posting a bit about a few of the places we went and some restaurants we ate at. Unfortunately, I took very few pictures over the weekend, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. Or look up the places I’m talking about on Google Street View, or something.

As for Birmingham itself, I had driven through the city a few times before and even spent the night in a hotel in town while on the way to Florida. However, on this trip, we got to experience a lot more of the city. Much to our surprise Birmingham is probably the loveliest place we’ve yet been in Alabama. I can’t speak as to how well it wears in the long-term, but there was plenty to enjoy on our weekend visit.

Fearful Symmetry

Oh, don’t let the title fool you. We just found out that little Sprout is a BOY, and we are thrilled. Even more thrilled than having the barest excuse to make a William Blake reference.

Of all our children, this is the only time we went into the ultrasound appointment with anything like a preference, and that was mostly for Z’s sake. Not that we wouldn’t have been happy to have another girl — I’m quite fond of the ones we’ve got — but we would have felt a little bad for Z being the only boy out of four kids. However, he dodged that pink, glitter-covered bullet and will get to have a brother of his very own.

Way back when the Wife and I were only planning and talking about having children, we had said that two girls and two boys sounded like the ideal arrangement. We’re as surprised as we are pleased that life has actually worked out that way.  Especially given a checkered reproductive past that includes multiple losses and fertility treatments.

Given Murphy’s law of course we had a great name picked out and ready to go for a girl. We don’t know what we’re gonna call Sprout yet.

Conversations From The Back Seat

We overheard this exchange between the girls while on a road trip this weekend:

RU: I want the magna-draw-er.

MeToo: I need it for doing work. I’m writing to God.

RU: What are you writing about?

MeToo: I was going to be born but I died and went to Heaven. I was supposed to be the first sister but instead I came second.

RU: You haven’t died. You won’t die until you’re old, old.

MeToo: No, I did. I was a kid, then I died and went to Heaven. Then I became a baby and was borned.

Contents

Here is a list of what I found in my three-year-old’s backpack today:

  • An orange peel.
  • The paper sack her lunch was packed in, now wadded into a damp ball.
  • Most of the inside of an orange.
  • A 10-ounce jar, half full of water.
  • The lid to the jar.
  • One sock (wet).

(I strongly suspect this will become a regular feature.)
Update: Now it’s time to play everyone’s favorite game, “What Has It Got In Its Pockets?” Sticking my hand inside MeToo’s jacket, I find that its full of… sweet gum balls! Prickly!