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.

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