Disney Review with the Unshaved Mouse #19: The Jungle Book

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

***

Oh. It’s you. Fuck do you want?

Yeah I’m drunk. So what? I can review just fine…don’t…just back off. I’m fine. Just, you’re crowding me right now and I feel like I’m losing my balance like you’re giving me vertigo OH FUCK…

Everyday Bar Stool 28inch

Curse you stool…you’ve always been jealous of me! Ever since school! ‘Cos I was a person with dreams and hopes and you WERE JUST FURNITURE! YEAH! I SAID IT!

Okay…I’m fine. Sorry. I’m sorry everyone. I’m so sorry.

Stool…Stool can you ever forgive me?

You promised me that last time would be the last time. We're done Mouse. Never call me again.

You and I? We’re done.

Ohhhh Christ I’m a mess. Yeah, so I needed a stiff drink or twelve after seeing this week’s movie again. See, The Jungle Book is a very important movie for me. This is the first movie I ever saw in a cinema. One day in the eighties my mother brought me to a tiny little one screener called the Regal Cinema in Youghal, Co Cork. Amazingly, I mentioned this to my mother when I was getting ready to write this review and it turns out it was also the first film she ever saw in the cinema too, and that she was brought to that exact same cinema when it first came out in 1967.

Youghal has been absolutely hollowed out by the recession and the Regal closed in 2011 after seventy four years in business but I still have that memory. Watching The Jungle Book with my mother, maybe around three or four years of age, laughing at Baloo and Louie, and being a little scared but not too scared of Shere Khan and Kaa. First Disney movie I ever saw and it was just pure joy. That was the day I learned how much a piece of art could mean to you. And then I watch it again and…ugh I need a drink.

No, I don't need a glass. Why would you ask that?

No, I don’t need a glass. Why would you ask that?

So what’s the problem? Is it not as good as a I remember it? Is it the animation? No, in fact, the animation is actually better than I remember it. Scratchy sure, but a lot cleaner than Sword in the Stone and 101 Dalmatians. The songs, then? The comedy? The songs are the best the Shermans ever did for Disney with the exception of Mary Poppins and it was, is and remains probably the funniest of all the Disney movies. So why have I launched an Operation Barbarossa-like offensive against my own liver?

For God's sake help me! He's crazy!

“For God’s sake help me! He’s crazy!”

Because my friends, reviewing this movie means we’ve got to talk about racism.

Again.

Yes. We do. Stop crying. Stop it for God’s sake, it’s undignified. I know we already went over this in Song of the South. But this is differentAnd to be honest, I’m not even going to attempt the usual Unshaved Mouse style review of this movie until we’ve gotten this out of the way.

Okay.

This movie…

Excuse me a moment.

No, I don't need a glass. Why would you ask that?

Oh sweet whiskey, YOU’LL never turn out to be secretly racist.

This movie…appears to make…this movie appears to make use of the “Black People as Monkeys” Trope.

Which, if that is the case…damn. I mean, that is really as bad as it gets. That’s the very bottom. Aside from the awfulness of dehumanising a race of people like that in and of itself, that was the “intellectual” rationale for slavery. The idea that black people were subhuman and therefore could be enslaved without guilt. Along with the myth of Jewish “blood libel” it is probably the most viciously destructive lie in all of human history.

Now, unlike Song of the South where the problematic treatment of race ran throughout the entire film, The Jungle Book’s race issue comes down to a single scene. Mowgli is kidnapped by monkeys because, as in Rudyard Kipling’s original book, they want him to teach them how to make fire. What Kipling’s book does not have, however, is  a jive talking orangutan king called King Louie and a jazz number whereby the Monkeys sing about wanting to be human and which includes the line…

You see it’s true-ooh-ooh/An ape like me-ee-ee. Can learn to be hu-uu-uu-man, too-hoo-hoo!”

First of all, how do you do that? How do you take something by Rudyard Frickin’ Kipling and make it more racist?!

So, open and shut case, right? This is the most racist thing committed to film since Birth of a Nation? 

Well…

Oh boy.

Okay. Here we go.

That's it. Kill the fear.

That’s it. Kill the fear.

Look, I really, really, really, really, don’t want to get a reputation as being the guy who defends racism in Disney movies. I mean, this blog is both influential and trendsetting and I realise that a great many people look to me for moral guidance.

Nate Silver

30 October: The Unshaved Mouse endorses Barack Obama for reelection.
01 November: A major surge in the polls for the President. Coincidence?

And I have an awful feeling that if I say what I’m about to say the next thing I know is I’ll be hearing this:

So I hear you're a racist now Mouse

“I hear you’re a RACIST now Mouse. Does that mean we should all be RACISTS too?”

But…here’s the thing. It’s BAD. No question. But I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you might think. To repeat, it’s BAD. I’m not denying that. Not for a second. But I think that a lot of the reasons that people say this scene is racist don’t actually hold up to scrutiny. Let’s take those lyrics I quoted above. Now…if the movie is genuinely presenting Louie and the monkeys as stand-ins for black people, if that is actually what the intention is, then that’s unforgivable. If however, they are not meant to be stand-ins for African-Americans, then the lyrics are harmless. It’s simply what it is, an orangutan wanting to get the secret of fire so he can move up the evolutionary ladder.  There is no other level on which to read the song, much less a racist one. So it all hinges on this one question. Are we supposed to think of Louie and the monkeys as “black”?

The fact that they sing a jazz number is unquestionably problematic. There’s no way to deny that. Jazz is a quintessentially African-American music style, very closely identified and linked to black culture. So giving I Want to be Like You to Louie was an insensitive, knuckleheaded, extremely offensive thing to do. But…at the same time, a jazz aesthetic infuses the entire movie and it’s not the only jazz number in the film, Trust in Me and Bare Necessities could both be considered part of the genre. I don’t think that on its own the fact that Louie and the monkeys were given the song is proof enough of a deliberate attempt to paint black people as apes. If this was a court of law I’d call it cumulative evidence rather than causative evidence. Cumulative evidence can be used to strengthen a point made with other evidence but is not strong enough alone to make that evidence. To do that, we’d need to take a harder look at the characters. Now, I’ll admit that I was operating on something of a misapprehension for a long time as regards the character of King Louie. For starters, I thought that he was based on jazz singer Louis Armstrong, and I think I actually believed for a while that he was VOICED by Louis Armstrong. And I could be wrong, but I think that’s a pretty common misconception. The internet is full of false musical facts that just seem to keep on living no matter how many times people try to correct them.

Fine internet. You win. Bob Marley sang "Don't Worry Be Happy". I give up.

Fine internet. You win. Bob Marley sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. I give up.

Now, casting one of the most famous black jazz musicians of all time as a talking ape would be horrendously racist and would pretty much end any debate here and now. But King Louie was actually voiced by and based on jazz singer Louis Prima.

Louis Prima, seen here being white.

Louis Prima, seen here being white.

That’s right, Louie was actually voiced by a white guy. In fact, Disney specifically cast a white singer precisely to avoid the kind of racist implication that people now draw from this scene. And this is a big part of the reason why I think the scene is not actually as bad as it looks at first glance. See, this movie was released in 1965 during the height of the civil rights movement. And yet, unlike Song of the South which brought instant condemnation and protests from the NAACP  upon its release in the forties, I can’t actually find any evidence that there was any racial controversy surrounding The Jungle Book. The charge of racism against this movie seems to have only come in later decades. And part of the reason for that is that Louis Prima is no longer as famous or recognisable as he was at the time of the movie’s release. Audiences today see the movie and think that King Louie is based on Louis Armstrong or some other presumably black jazz singer. But audiences in the sixties would have simply seen a cartoon version of Louis Prima, aping (sorry) his very distinctive stage persona. But as the movie recedes into the past, it becomes less clear to modern audiences that Louie is supposed to be a specific individual (the white) Prima, and Louie instead becomes to be viewed as a generic jazz singer, and therefore black. To give a modern example. Let’s say for example, that while making Aladdin in the nineties the Disney writers got into the medicine cabinet decided that they wanted to make Abu a rapper. With me so far? They want the cartoon monkey to be played by a famous hip-hop artist and to rap, an art form as inextricably linked to black culture as jazz. Pretty damn racist, right?

But let’s say that the rapper they cast in the role of Abu was this guy…

Imagine Abu constantly threatening to rape Jasmine and never shutting up about his daughter and you got your movie.

They try to defuse any possible racism by casting the most famous white rapper in the world in the role, and they model Abu’s look and personality on Eminem.

Imagine Abu constantly threatening to strangle Jasmine and never shutting up about his daughter and you got your movie.

Imagine Abu constantly threatening to strangle Jasmine and never shutting up about his daughter and you got your movie.

Is it still racist?

Is it?

I’m actually asking you, I have genuinely no idea. Bottom line is, King Louie is about as racist as Abu being voiced by Eminem. If you think that’s not racist, it’s not. If you think it is, it is. That’s about the size of it.

As for the monkeys…here’s the thing. Remember the crows from Disney?

Crows

Now they were clearly meant to be black. That was the joke. They were crows and they were black. Their mannerisms, their accents, it was all meant to demonstrate their blackness with all the subtlety of a ninety year old Kentucky Civil War widow. But with the monkeys in Jungle Book, you don’t get that. I’m serious, if you listen to their spoken voices they’re quite obviously voiced by white guys and no attempt is made to give them stereotypically black mannerisms  or accents. They’re just…cartoon monkeys. That’s it.

So, my final word before starting the review proper is this: The portrayal of King Louie and the monkeys in the Jungle Book is the same stupid, insensitive, unthinking, stumble-footed racism that we have seen in many Disney movies before now and will see again before we’re done. But I think to accuse the movie of a deliberate attempt at dehumanisation and a portrayal of black people as apes is inaccurate and doesn’t hold up when you actually study the piece.

Everyone got that? And, to reiterate:

Unshaved Mousenot a racist

Now. Let’s actually take a look at the damn movie.

The Jungle Book opens with the panther Bagheera (Sebastien Cabot) finding a human baby in a boat in the middle of the jungle. Bagheera tells us that “had I known how deeply I was to become involved, I would have obeyed my first impulse and walked away.” Okay. So now we know something about Bagheera. He’s a liar. There is no way that was his first impulse.

My first instinct

He looks like he’s just discovered that his favourite restaurant delivers.

Instead, Bagheera decides to leave the child in the care of some local wolves who’ve recently had a litter of puppies that conveniently allows the artists to reuse some animation from 101 Dalmatians.  In fact, it’s at around this point in the canon that the recycling of animation starts to become really noticeable. We’re not yet at the worst offender (cough cough Robin Hood) but Jungle Book is pretty bad for this. As well as Dalmatians there’s recycled sequences from Sword in the Stone, and Ichabod and Mr Toad.

By recycling, we can all do our part! The power is yours!

We’re lazy bastards!

Anyway, the wolves adopt Mowgli and even make him some nifty red speedos and he grows up as just another member of the pack. Soon however, word reaches the wolves that Shere Khan the tiger has returned to their part of the jungle and the leader of the pack, Akala, decides that Mowgli has to leave. Shere Khan hates humans and will kill Mowgli and anyone who tries to protect him.

shere-khan

He’ll kill their kids, he’ll kill their wives, he’ll kill their parents and their parents’ friends. He’ll burn down the jungles they live in and the fields they hunt in, he’ll kill animals that owe them money.

Bagheera offers to take Mowgli back to the Man Village, and on the way explains to him why he can’t go home, namely that Satan’s own pussycat has got beef with him. Mowgli says that they should just explain to Shere Khan that Mowgli is not really a man, but Bagheera retorts that “Nobody explains anything to Shere Khan.”

Hm. And she never explains anything. Maybe we should set these too up?

Hm. And she never explains anything. Maybe we should set these two up?

Mowgli says he wants to stay in the jungle but Bagheera tells him to put a sock in it and they climb a tree to spend the night. Bagheera goes to sleep and Mowgli finds himself face to face with the python, Kaa, voiced by Sterling Holloway.

Take a shot.

Take a shot.

A few people asked me after the Mary Poppins review why I didn’t mention the differences between the movie and the books and the simple reason for that is that I had never read them. Now, I have read Kipling’s Jungle Book but I won’t be going on about the differences between the book and the film in the same way I did in the Peter Pan review because frankly I think the Jungle Book does a better job of standing on its own as a movie. It’s far less faithful to its source material than Peter Pan was, (pretty much all the major characters are radically different), but I like it more because it does something new and entertaining rather than just trying to follow the original story in a half-assed way and not really getting it like Peter Pan. Kaa, for instance, is a completely different character in the original book. For starters, he’s Mowgli’s friend and mentor, a massively powerful 100 year old python who’s always on hand whenever Mowgli needs some ass kicking done. In the movie he’s a comic relief villain, who first hypnotises Mowgli before trying to eat him. Fortunately, Bagheera wakes up just in time to scream “Kaa!”

Kaa

KAAAAAAAAAAAA!

KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Bagheera saves Mowgli but now Kaa has Bagheera in his sights and he knows just how to deal with him.

You ever been to Bahia, pussy cat?

You ever been to Bahia, pussy cat?

But Mowgli pushes Kaa’s coils off the tree, saving Bagheera. All well and good, but then Bagheera starts giving Mowgli all this snotty “So, you can look after yourself?” stuff and I’m sorry that’s bullshit.  From where I’m standing that’s Bagheera saving Mowgli once, and Mowgli saving Bagheera once. That’s a draw. In fact, when you factor in that Mowgli is a little ten year old in speedos and Bagheera is a frickin’ panther Bagheera should really keep his damn mouth shut. If anything, he’s the one who should be going to the Man Village.

Anyway, the next day they’re woken up by Colonel Haiti and his elephant patrol. Haiti is voiced by J. Pat O’Malley pretty much reprising his role as the Colonel in 101 Dalmatians and as usual doing a flawless English accent.

That's right. I just truth kicked you in the nutsack.

Oh ho, you thought we were DONE?

We get our first song, Colonel Hathi’s March which is probably the weakest in the film but only because the rest of them are so stellar. It’s a brisk, martial tune sung by the elephants as they march through the jungle, where they admit that they really have no idea why they’re marching. We also meet Hathi’s wife, played by Verna Felton…

5587-54579553771-large5587-10082

Three cartoon elephants!? She played three cartoon elephants? How does that even happen? That has got to be the most bizarre case of typecasting I have ever heard of.

download (6)

It was my way of subtly telling her to lose some damn weight.

And Hathi Jnr played by…holy shit Clint Howard!?

This is literally the least terrifying picture of Clint Howard I could find.

This is literally the least terrifying picture of Clint Howard I could find. Drink it in.

It’s a fun scene but it doesn’t really have any effect on the plot. In fact, the elephants are pretty much entirely superfluous to the whole movie. Mowgli and Bagheera continue on their journey until Mowgli flat out refuses to go any further and Bagheera tries to drag him the rest of the way.

ten year old jungle speedos

Oh God! Oh God! These speedos taste terrible!

Finally Bagheera gives up and storms off, leaving Mowgli alone in the jungle. Mowgli then meets one of my favorite Disney characters of all time.

I love this fucking guy!

I love this fucking guy!

Well, who doesn’t love Baloo? Who couldn’t love Baloo? I am not prone to hyperbole, but anyone who doesn’t love Baloo is in all probability a Nazi. Baloo is voiced by Phil Harris, mostly improvising his own dialogue and he’s so good that Disney essentially had him do the same part two more times, in The Aristocats and Robin Hood.

Baloo tries to make friends with Mowgli but the kid’s not having any of it and tries to beat Baloo up.

Im a bear

“Kid. Look, you got the speed and you got the guts. But I am a bear and I WILL kill you.”

Baloo, realising that this kid has got a terminal case of the stupids, offers to teach him how to fight like a bear. Which, if you don’t have claws, fangs, a six foot reach and the strength to bend reinforced steel, essentially boils down to you lazily slapping people with your limp fleshy arms. Bagheera hears Baloo’s roaring and thinks that Mowgli’s in trouble and rushes back saying “I should never have left him alone!”

Well duh

Bagheera tries to take Mowgli back to the Man Village but Baloo’s having none of it, saying “They’ll ruin him! They’ll make a man out of him!” Baloo says that Mowgli will stay with him and launches into The Bare Necessities probably the most famous song in the whole film and, interestingly, the only one not written by the Sherman Brothers. There was an older version of the script written by Terry Gilkyson that was too dark for Walt’s liking and was completely re-written, with this song being the only thing to carry over between the two versions. It’s not hard to see why. The Bare Necessities is a great song, a sunny, breezy ode to being a lazy bastard. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. Baloo. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.

The bear abides.

Bagheera gives up, because that’s what he does. He’s a quitter. And Mowgli and Baloo are left to enjoy a life of ease and indolence for about ten seconds before Mowgli gets kidnapped by some monkeys and Baloo has to call on Bagheera for help.

The monkeys take Mowgli to a temple deep in the jungle to meet Louie. We’ve already covered this scene pretty extensively in the introduction so let me sum up.Louie sings I Wanna Be Like You, which is fantastic notwithstanding any possible subtext. Bagheera and Baloo arrive, Baloo dresses up as…a…hippo…?

Film - THE JUNGLE BOOK.

“Okay Baggy, I’m gonna disguise myself as a hippo in a hula skirt”
“For the love of God why?!”
“Because it is literally the last thing they will be expecting.”

Bagheera and Baloo manage to get Mowgli out of there with the help of some recycled footage from Ichabod and Mr Toad and in the process bring down the Hindu temple around Louie’s ears.

"Who needs insurance?" they said. "It's a temple in the middle of the Indian jungle" they said "What could wrong?" they said.

“Who needs insurance?” they said. “It’s a temple in the middle of the Indian jungle” they said. “What could go wrong?” they said.

 Later that night, Bagheera tries to convince Baloo that Mowgli needs to leave the jungle. Baloo is resistant at first, but when he hears that Shere Khan is after him he changes his tune. The movie does a fantastic job of setting up Shere Khan as a serious threat. Most Disney villains appear very early on in the movie, but we don’t actually see Shere Khan until almost two thirds through the film. But the effect the mere mention of his name has on the other characters, even Baloo, is very telling. Baloo finally realises that it’s a choice between getting Mowgli back to the Man Village or becoming just another Shere Khan related statistic so he tries to convince Mowgli to go with him. Instead, Mowgli freaks out and tells Baloo that he’s “Just like old Bagheera!” which obviously is way over the line. Mowgli runs off and Baloo and Bagheera desperately search for him.

We finally see Shere Khan stalking menacingly through the tall grass about to pounce on…oh seriously?!

Again

Bambi’s mother again?!

It’s not enough that you traumatised whole generations of kids with her death, you have to constantly put her in danger over and over again?

You cut that out!

You cut that out!

Anyway, Hathi’s elephants stampede through, scaring off Shere Khan’s lunch. Shere Khan is voiced by George Sanders, in one of the most perfect pieces of casting in the history of Disney movies. Sanders made a career out of playing honey-voiced upper class cads and here he sets a template for some of the greatest Disney villains to come.

Jafar, Scar, Frollo. They’re all Shere Khan’s glorious bastards.

"My, yes. What a diverting weekend THAT was."

“My, yes. What a diverting weekend THAT was.”

Shere Khan overhears Bagheera talking to Hathi about Mowgli and sets off to find “the helpless little lad.”

Meanwhile, Mowgli has fallen into Kaa’s clutches again and I gotta say, even as a little kid, it bugged me that they weren’t able to keep Kaa’s design consistent between his two scenes.

Kaa (1)kaa (2)

Maybe he had work done. Anyway,  Kaa manges to lull Mowgli asleep with Trust in Me, and I’m finding it really hard to find new and different ways to say that all these songs are fantastic so please just take it as read. Kaa is about to begin the process of slowly digesting Mowgli over several weeks when Shere Khan arrives and we get a lovely visual gag of the tiger pulling Kaa’s tail like a door bell.

The scene where Shere Khan interrogates Kaa is a brilliantly suspenseful comic set piece and both Holloway and Sanders are fantastic. Holloway’s nervous desperation as he tries to keep Mowgli hidden and Sanders’ hilariously cordial menace make it one of the highlights of the movie for me. Finally, Shere Khan stalks off much to Kaa’s relief but Mowgli has already woken up and pushes Kaa off the branch again and runs off.

Alone and friendless, Mowgli finds himself in the bleakest part of the jungle, a barren wasteland devoid of greenery or life of any kind. An utterly desolate wilderness, shunned by man and forgotten by God.

To my non-Irish readers: trust me on this one. To my Irish readers: Oh yes. I went there.

To my non-Irish readers: trust me on this one.
To my Irish readers: Oh yes. I went there.

Mowgli meets the four vultures Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy and Dizzy who are modelled on the Beatles. They tease him at first, but when they realise he’s an outcast like them they take pity on him and offer to be his friends. They sing We’re Your Friends, a barbershop number that is probably my favorite song in the whole movie. In fact, get me drunk and chances are I’ll start singing this.

Oh. That's right.

Oh. That’s right.

We're your friends! We're you friends! We're your friends to the bitter end THE BITTER END!

We’re your friends! We’re your friends! We’re your friends to the bitter end. THE BITTER END!

Interestingly, this was originally going to be a pop song in the style of the Beatles. Walt decided that would immediately date the movie because the Beatles were just a flash in the pan fad who’d be all but forgotten in a few years time.

Wow. It's like he was a prophet or something.

Wow. It’s like he was a prophet or something.

So instead, the song was changed to a barbershop number, making these vultures probably the second greatest cartoon barbershop quartet that has ever been.

It's a small, but extremely competetive genre.

It’s a small, but extremely competitive genre.

The song is cut short however when Shere Khan arrives and finishes the song with his bowel loosening bass voice. Shere Khan offers to give Mowgli a ten second head start because he is a gentleman and a class act. But Mowgli instead picks up a small stick and gets ready to fight him off.

sausage

This is what Shere Khan sees right now.

Baloo arrives and manages to grab Shere Khan’s tail just before he can kill Mowgli. The vultures fly the kid to safety but now Baloo has to deal with the tiger, who proceeds to award him his doctorate from the school of Why-You-Do-Not-Fuck-With-Shere-Khan.

He graduated top of his class.

He graduated top of his class.

A lightning strike sets a nearby tree on fire, and the vultures distract Shere Khan long enough for Mowgli to tie a burning branch to his tail.

Bahia!

Shere Khan runs off with his ass on fire and it seems as if our heroes have prevailed. But at what cost?

No...

No…

You killed Baloo. No. Shere Khan, you killed Baloo! You stripey bastard, you killed Baloo!

We're your friends! We're you friends! We're your friends to the bitter end THE BITTER END!

KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!!

KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!KAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!
KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Mowgli tearfully tries to wake Baloo and Bagheera arrives from…wherever he was. Doing something very important no doubt. Definitely not hiding like a filthy coward while Baloo died a goddamn hero you pompous ass! Tell him how useless he is now, you jerk! It should have been you, goddamn it! IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU!

Save Baggy

Oh God. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I’m just emotional and bleeding internally from all the whiskey.

Bagheera eulogises Baloo’s heroic sacrifice while the vultures look on dejectedly.

“So…um, when are we going to…”
“Not the time.”
“But we’re vultures.”
“NOT THE TIME!”

But then Baloo suddenly snaps out of it and it turns out he was alive the whole time, and was simply pretending to be killed by a savage tiger. What an actor. Also, he pretended to be dead just so he could hear all the nice things Bagheera said about him. Pardon me a moment.

YOU SOCIOPATHIC DICKHOLE!
HOW DARE YOU PLAY WITH MY HEART LIKE THAT!?

Ahem.

Okay, so Baloo, Bagheera and Mowgli are rambling through the jungle and it finally looks like Mowgli is going to get to stay in the jungle after all when he hears our final song My Own Home. This leads him to the outskirts of the Man Village where he sees Shanti, a girl from the village singing as she gathers water. Mowgli is entranced and nervously follows after her while Baloo and Bagheera watch from the bushes.

I can see whats happening

“I can see what’s happening.”
“What?”
“And they don’t have a clue!”

My Own Home is a lilting, almost lullaby like song where Shanti sings about her day to day life in the village, and how one day she will have a husband and a daughter of her own. There is also an unmistakeably seductive vibe to it. I don’t mean sexually, ‘cos that would be weird, but definitely a feeling that Mowgli is being lured into something he won’t be able to get back out of. Bagheera is delighted. Baloo is distraught. I just kind of wish Mowgli had some advice that fell between the two extremes.

Come back

Mowgli! Come back! Come back!

Go on

Go on! Go on!

Take it slow and see how it goes!
Take it slow and see how it goes!

Anyway, Mowgli surrenders to the strange new tingling in his speedos and follows Shanti back into the Man Village, where he will live happily ever after.

"Hey Ma! Caught us another one of them there jungle boys!""Aw, we eatin' well tonight!"

“Hey Ma! Caught us another one of them there jungle boys!”
“Aw, we eatin’ well tonight!”

Baloo is sad, but Bagheera tells him that it was inevitable and that Mowgli is where he belongs now. Baloo brightens at this, and the two walk into the sunset singing The Bare Necessities.

Pilot

“So what are you going to do now?”
“Thinking of trying for my pilot’s licence again. Maybe start a courier service.”
“Baloo. That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”

The Jungle Book was a rare beast, a box office smash at the time of its release and a huge hit with the critics. It was also the last movie that Walt had any involvement in, he had already passed on by the time it was released. And by all accounts he played a huge role in the creation of this film, far more than he had with say, Sword in the Stone. Walt made many of the choices regarding characters and music that have made this movie the crowning achievement of the Scratchy Era. This was his final farewell to the medium upon which he’d left such a huge and unrivalled mark. Next week, we’ll see just what effect his passing had on the studio that he left behind.

Scoring

Animation: 13/20

This is tricky. There is some genuinely lovely character animation here, especially with Kaa and the feline characters. But it’s very uneven and I have to mark it down for some quite noticeable recycling.

The Leads: 18/20

Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera are the perfect trio, brilliantly bouncing off each other.

The Villain: 19/20

A vast improvement over the book version in my opinion. The literary Shere Khan was a rather pathetic figure, lame and cowardly. Sanders infuses the character with wit, charm, grace and sheer obsidian-black menace.

Supporting Characters: 18/20

Brilliant across the board.

The Music: 19/20

It’s the Sherman Brothers at the very top their game.

FINAL SCORE: 87%

NEXT WEEK: WE CAN HAZ ARISTOCATS REVIEW?

Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every Thursday. Thanks for reading!

42 comments

  1. Ah, Tailspin. I LOVE that show growing up. But as me and my brother learned when we got older. No cargo plane can outfly any class of fighter no matter how good the pilot is, unless he’s Baloo!

  2. Great review unshavedmouse!

    I’m in your camp in the sense that I don’t find the monkeys offensive. I actually think they’re very cool and honestly never noticed the stereotype until you pointed it out. I knew that Louis Armstrong was apparently in mind for the role of King Louie, but I didn’t take my thinking farther than that.

    One interesting thing about this film is that it shows an early case of celebrity voices in animation. True, that phenomenon (which I for the most part DESPISE) wouldn’t propel itself until Aladdin; it wasn’t uncommon to see celebrity voices in animation before that though. And in this film we have Sebastian Cabot (I wish I could do an impression of him), Phil Harris (I wish I could do an impression of him), George Sanders (I wish I could do an impression of him), and Louis Prima and Clint Howard (great; but no desire to do impressions of).

    It’s funny that you should mention Verna Felton doing the voice of 3 cartoon elephants. But in fact she has done at least 4! In one of Disney’s animated shorts, “Goliath II”, she also does the voice of an elephant and a VAST amount of the animation of the elephants in this film is taken from that short. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out; I’m sure Youtube has it.

    I’m probably one of the few people to find the song “Trust in Me” quite boring and to not consider Kaa as a villain/subvillain at all!

    Another fun fact is that the vultures also had a rhino friend named Rocky voiced by Frank Fontaine; but he was later cut!

    I’m looking forward to your awesome reviews in the post-Disney “iffy/dark” era!

    1. You’re incorrect regarding Goliath II. That mother elephant was voiced by Barbara Jo Allen, who voiced Fauna in Sleeping Beauty.

  3. Excellent review as always. I’ve always found Mowgli to be an unlikable lead, though, acted too much like a brat for my liking.
    Very good analysis on the racial aspect, I always prefer it when fellow Disney fans are examining these aspects, they might be a little biased but others often seem to go too far the other way, taking things out of context and nitpicking whatever elements suit their agenda.

    I’m not too fond of your grading system. I’ve always felt that movies should be judged based on the whole picture and not the sum of its parts. The different aspects in which you use to come up with the final grade also do not necessarily have equal weighting in a movie. For example, if the leads are given greater focus than the villain., it doesn’t seem right that they both be marked out of 20.when the former has a greater impact on the movie’s quality. There is also the problem when you compare between movies, the villain in a movie like say, Dumbo, is a lot less clear and plays a lesser role compared to that of a movie like Sleeping Beauty which has a very prominent and active villain. Again, the equal 20 point weighting seems to short-change movies like Dumbo.

    Of course, your reviews are well-written enough that you can convey your impressions of these movies even without the numerical value at the end and this is not a problem in itself. However, you mentioned in your first post that you planned to rank the movies as well and I don’t think the numerical values would be the fairest method of doing so.

    1. You’re not wrong about the grading system, it’s certainly not perfect and it has resulted in some movies getting a higher score than I might have chosen (three caballeros for example.) But I do think those are the five elements that really make a great Disney movie and I like it because it allows be to rank the movies not just by their overall merits. And it does mostly reflect my
      opinion of the overall movie and show people why I rank the movies a certain number. Right now the top five would pretty much be my favorite five overall so I think it’s doing its job.

  4. Oh my god, I just gotta say, that joke with Kaa asking if Bagheera’s ever been to Bahia, I was laughing so hard I almost joked on my milk. My god, that was just funny as all hell. Great job, mate. Keep up the good work.

  5. Oh, and a little bit of trivia I remember hearing from an interview with Richard Sherman, Trust in Me was supposed to be a song for Mary Poppins called ‘The Land of Sand,’ which was cut from the film; but rewrote the lyrics and kept the tune to the song so they could added it onto this movie. What’s even better: you can hear Richard Sherman sing the original tune on the Jungle Book soundtrack from the interview the brothers give on it.

  6. Of all the rassismus accusations, the one against Jungle Book is the most idiotic one and holds no water at all.
    1. Louis Prima was not just “a jazz singer”, he was known as the “King of swing”…monkey, swing, you get it? The monkeys don’t sing “black jazz music”, they “swing” because they swing from tree to tree.
    2. I’m not sure who the monkey with the white hair is parodying, but as a child, I always thought it was a parodie on Beethoven or classic componists in general.
    3. Okay, let’s pretend “I wanna be like you” has some hidden subtext, and doesn’t simply mean that King Louis wants to be human…then he wants to be like Mowgli. So how exactly does that translate into him wanting to be a white person???? Last time I checked, Mowgli was Indian (and he looks that way…nobody ever accused HIM of looking “too white”), and thus he would considered as a POC (I really hate that word).

    The only thing really racist in the whole argument are those old movies which showed so called tribes acting like monkeys. As opposed to the Disney movie, which shows MONKEYS acting like monkeys.

    Accusations like this are the reasons I see the “Disney is racist” campaign mostly as a witch hunt. Disney can go wrong and did go wrong in the past, and it might go wrong again, but not worse than any other movie company out there and certainly not deliberatly.

    But, back to the movie: I’m sad to say, I mostly grew out of it. It might be the favourite of my father, but it was never mine. Though, as a child, I really liked it. As an adult…I always wish that it had been more. There is so much talk in this movie, mostly about Mowgli going back to the humans, but there isn’t much essential said.

      1. Ah, sorry, I didn’t see the question beforehand…in case you still need the info: “Hast du jemals mit dem roten Hahn im fahlen Mondlicht getanzt?”
        Red Rooster = Roter Hahn
        pale moonlight = fahles Mondlicht
        dance = tanzen

    1. Right… How can the song be about white people wanting to be white when…
      1: … the monkeys are voiced by white actors and are just supposed to be monkeys?
      2:.. Mowgli isn’t white?

      Yeah, Disney maybe did some things in the past, which we find racist today. But this one doesn’t hold water at all. On the contrary, it makes ther assumption that that only black people can play and sing jazz, yand that every monkey character is secretly a black person.

    2. I agree. I loved this movie as a kid, but now as an adult, I found it to be…lacking. I feel like there needed to be more. It’s hard to explain.

  7. Have you thought about merchandizing, Mouse? I know that earning off of your fans is probably the furthest thing from your mind, but I’d buy a “You Ever Been to Bahia?” t-shirt on the spot.

  8. I found this one rather mediocre with only a few saving graces, even as a kid. I never saw the supposed “racist” aspect, though.

  9. Yeah, this film is pretty good, not the best but good nonetheless. Even though the plot is really simple, the characters carry it through, and makes it much more interesting to watch. The songs are really good as well, and the animation is Xerograply at its best. You could tell Disney and his crew put their foot into this one. Sad that this would be his final film with his input.

  10. I really enjoy this movie. the only thing I don’t like as much is the ending. like, its just so sudden. he hated man and didn’t want to go to the village and thought of baloo as bestest of friend. then, a girl wooed him into the village, completely ignoring his ‘bestest’ friend and everything else. its like saying that a woman’s seductive powers r greater than friendship and everything else. *sigh*

  11. This film has become quite a recent favorite of mine. I really like the characters and songs, and Shere Khan has gone up higher on my list of favorite Disney villains.

  12. Now, before I say anything, I will just like to thank you on behalf of a great number of the United States of America’s women for keeping the scourge that is Mitt out of the White House. And can only regret that you weren’t around to get Mr. Layton elected in the continent’s northernmost country as well.

    And, shoot. This was a pretty rough one for ya, huh? I think our experiences on Jungle Book are… quite different to say the least. For me it was one of those ones that wasn’t in my household, so it was left as the default Disney video of choice at the home of that one aunt I always dreaded visiting because she had a rowdy toddler with a habit of tackling and biting like a wild animal and I am sure left a patch of drool on the carpet which was never, ever cleaned and was immune to drying out… Yeah, less fond memories for environment purposes. And then there was that point I started reading the literal Jungle Book and started to wonder why the movie seemingly portrayed every character the opposite of the personalities Kipling gave them (I later found out it was because one of Walt’s first instructions when he pitched the adaptation was “don’t read it”, being the contrarian he is). But when it comes to racism, my reaction and my sister’s to the claim of the movie being so were basically the same: “Wait, what?!”

    Yeah, I’d always just figured it was a play on slang terms the same as with the Alleycats; they’re monkeys and apes who literally swing and act like swingers. And if it was taken care that Louie was voiced by a white jazz singer, I think it seems a likely guess that that’s what the filmmakers were going for and were aware of the implications, possibly hoping to curb them that way, though to no avail.

    But whatever their case, I think at least the trauma you went through had the benefit of that hilarious Eminem Abu gag. That was great.

    Also, at risk of destroying the last of your sanity… As an Irishman, your consummation of great amounts of whiskey perpetuates hurtful negative stereotypes of the Irish as drunkards, so you were wrong about your dear never-racist whiskey. Ha ha ha, yeah. In all honesty, I did find the idea that political correctness meant certain things were off limits for certain people.

    Hmm, I don’t seem to remember the wolf pups mimicking the dalmatians, but a memory of them imitating Ector’s dogs from Sword in the Stone sticks out quite clearly to me (I noticed it was the same sequence right off the bat). Interesting how different people notice different things more easily. Also, I wonder how many people you made Shere Khan + Mary Poppins their One True Pairing. And your pointing out Bagheera’s apparent poor survival instincts fits fascinatingly well with his portrayal as originally being a pet in the books (I think he belonged to royalty kind of like Rajah).

    Also, Phil Harris!!! Yeah, pretty much this guy’s so iconic to his era of Disney films that since learning his name I pretty much think of what you call the “scratchy era” the “Phil Harris era”. He sure is groovy! And “make a man out of him”, did he say? I didn’t know Li Shang had a deployment in India.

    And as for the vultures, I’m huge on the Beatles and kind of wish their song had been kept in their style. It honestly might have ended up being my favourite Disney song if it had, because I really, really love me some Beatles. Also, did you know the penguins from Madagascar were originally based on the Beatles? The Fab Four apparently really draw themselves to have cartoon bird quartets modelled after them.

    Your losing it when Baloo seemed dead was great. Yeah, Bagheera was suspiciously absent the whole time, but if Sher Khan can lick a bear within an inch of its life that easily, you bet he would’ve turned Bagheera’s zero-natural-instincts skin into a nice consolation-prize leopard pelt for Cruella. Maybe it was for the best Sher Khan got an opponent worthy enough to survive a mauling. Got to hand it to the vultures too, something tells me if Scar had bit it before he could make the hyenas against him, they wouldn’t have hesitated to dig in.

    Y’know, I’ve always found it a bit funny to think that Mowgli and Tarzan would in all likelihood hate each other if they met and each think the other fraternised with unsavoury species (the wolves who raised Mowgli hate apes and Tarzan didn’t think much of carnivores). Thinking of the part in which Mowgli was finally convinced to return to humanity made me notice some strange ways their stories contrast. Mowgli was perfectly fine living with the animals and the only thing that changed his mind was meeting a female of his species, but Tarzan, it seems, had his interest piqued the first time he saw humans (though he did meet his first woman much earlier) largely because he never fit in with the apes. So apparently it was much easier for a human to fit in with a pack of wolves than with a troop of fellow primates. And on top of that, the decidedly more adjusted Mowgli joined civilization, while Tarzan, for all his initial fascination with human society, did not. Their stories sure diverge oddly when you think about it.

  13. I don’t really agree that there’s any racial stuff going on in this film other than casting a white singers to avoid racist implications. Having that knowledge should tell you that Disney meant to have zero racist implications, which would make this movie not racist. I mean, why do some have to think of black people all the time whenever they see monkeys? Do monkeys always have to be a representation of blacks? Can’t they just be monkeys sometimes? We should stop over-analyzing stuff so much and thinking everything in a movie is a symbol for something else.
    King Louie is a character who wants to rule the jungle. Controlling fire like the humans do will give him the power to do so. That’s all his character represents. He’s singing swinger music because he’s an orangutan that can swing on vines and whatever else.
    I think some of this racist Disney accusations can come from not taking the times into consideration. If we saw animated characters today voiced by black actors talking in slang, they would just be characters voiced by black people. It wouldn’t be a statement that black people are all the same like this.
    Since you mentioned Dumbo, I’ll take this time to talk about it. What racist conclusion am I supposed to come to with the Dumbo crows? They aren’t actually dumb, they’re just funny with their puns. They’re the only characters in the film to help Dumbo aside from the mouse, and being the only good people in the world wasn’t ever a black stereotype. Is it they talk like black people? Well that in itself isn’t racist. In general (obviously not all African Americans), black people speak differently from white people. So what? There’s no joke there. That’s just reality. Usually when making racist impersonations like blackface, the person would usually speak in the stereotypical accent while perpetuating racist stereotypes through their actions and words. That doesn’t happen in Dumbo. They just talk black.
    Anyway, if the crows were supposed to be so demeaning to black folk, why are they some of the only decent characters in the film? If the Walt Disney Company thought Dumbo and Jungle Book are racist, they wouldn’t be comfortable having Dumbo on Netflix and Jungle Book added to their Diamond collection. They obviously show some racial sensitivity nowadays by not releasing Song of the South.

  14. Limerick: Love your famous rhyme scheme, dear.

    I was already a teenager when this movie came out, had read the books and loved them. I’ve never forgiven Disney Ink for treating my beloved children’s classic like a two-bit whore. I suppose this will always be my least favorite Disney movie…

    But then, one of my earliest fond Disney memories is “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” and, um, this IS an Irishman’s blog and all, and for all I know, said Irish person may think of that flick as hopelessly distorting and demeaning Irish culture as badly as TJB distorted Kipling, so there ya go… Disney’s checkered past has something to potentially offend everyone, just as it has something to please everyone. Just not the same folks every time, on either count.

    But racism in the monkeys? Nah, not that I noticed. I certainly DID notice that Kipling went to great lengths to point out that the monkeys had no king, which in his milieu meant they were a bunch of dangerous anarchists.

    1. It seems like the original “Jungle Book” is very dark though, so I understand that Disney had to make some changes in the story. “The little mermaid”, “Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, “Hercules” and “Tarzan” don’t exactly follow their sources to the letter either.

  15. “It seems like the original “Jungle Book” is very dark though”

    Well, yeah, but that’s one of the things I love about the book, all the ambiguities at its very core. In “The Jungle Book,” Kipling is constantly subverting his own professed enthusiasm for British imperialism by displaying a deep skepticism about modernity and civilization itself.

    Other than the fact that tigers, as a species, get such a bad rap in Kipling’s portrayal of Shere Khan– and Lord knows, real tigers need all the help they can get nowadays, or they’ll soon be as distant a memory as the passenger pigeon– other than that, the original “Jungle Book” is a real tree-hugger’s saga.

    Well, hey, Uncle Walt had a few tree-hugger tendencies himself, ya know? But there’s none of that on display in this movie. Instead, we get the innate dignity of Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa, even the monkeys, reduced to asshat clownery.

    I love it when I can agree with The Unshaved One on things, which I do, more often than not, but I just can’t on this film. I suppose it’s one of those “older kids versus younger kids” things, considering that Kipling’s core audience was more the former, and Disney’s in this instance clearly wasn’t.

    But then, I probably wasn’t much older when I first read the book than Unshaven was when he first saw the movie, and the book certainly wasn’t dark enough to disturb me. To the contrary: I grew up in a house that bordered on a half acre or so of dense forest, had that as my personal playground, and then had Kipling to help me channel my inner Mowgli.

    1. You have to understand though that when Disney adapt a book into one of their movies, they will do their own thing. I have not read the original book, but as far as I can tell, it seems like they couldn’t have done a more faithful version and still be Disney. Maybe you can’t accept that, but many other people have enjoyed this movie. And the original book is still there to be read by anyone who wants to read it.

  16. ” I have not read the original book, but as far as I can tell, it seems like they couldn’t have done a more faithful version and still be Disney.”

    Hmmmm… Well, maybe if I hadn’t read the book, I might think so too. But they definitely could have done exactly that, a “more faithful version” that let them still be Disney. All they had to do, really, was make it a lot more like “Bambi.” Not necessary to expunge every last trace of cutesiness, just enough to let the dignity of the characters show through, and that of the story itself. Disney Ink MAY have done so in the 2003 sequel, “The Jungle Book 2” (DisneyToon Productions), but I haven’t seen it.

    By now, there have been so many other adaptations of TJB, with more to come soon, there very well may be an adaptation out there, or soon to be, eminently suited to my tastes. And believe me, I’m NOT one of those people who wants all film and video adaptations of printed fiction to be as close as possible to the text; I’m not that naive. Just THIS particular adaptation of this particular work came as a crushing disappointment to this particular Kipling fan.

    By way of comparison: I’m a much bigger fan of Mark Twain (who oncewrote about meeting Kipling) than I ever was of Kipling himself. Disney’s live action adaptations of Twain take a lot of liberties with the text, too, and I haven’t seen any by Disney I really liked; but Disney’s Mark Twain movies at least didn’t leave me feeling shocked and appalled the way TJB did.

    1. Well, “Bambi” was made in an earlier era, when Disney took more risks than what they did in the ’60’s. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that “The Jungle Book” should have been more like “Bambi”. And I guess I should read the book before I say this, but I don’t understand why you think that Disney didn’t let the characters keep their dignity. They just made their own take on the story, just like they have done to many other stories. And if that offends you, well, that’s only your loss, I’m afraid…

  17. The big loser in the “keeping their dignity” sweepstakes is Kaa, whom Kipling describes as “a hammer weighing half a ton driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it”. Book-Kaa is a good guy, and he’s still TERRIFYING. Baloo and Bagheera can’t handle the monkeys alone, and Kaa comes in like the Snake Cavalry, smashes down a wall, and is basically “hey monkeys, GET IN MA BELLY” and they all walk straight down his throat.

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