Jungle Fever

Why stop now? Let's continue our search of the deep underbrush of Jungle Land and Explore....

The Jungle Book (1967)

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 7.5

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 7

Characters/Characterization + Voice Acting: 7.5

Art Direction/Design: 6

Themes/Archetypes/Artistic Interpretation: 5

From Wiry:

I'm thrilled to be doing the plot summary this time around, as it's probably the easiest one we'll ever do. Abandoned boy is found by a panther in the jungle, baby grows to boy, panther tries to get boy to the human village to protect him from the big man-hating tiger, hijinks ensue, boy defeats tiger, Jesus-bear resurrects, and a deus-ex-hussy brainwashes boy into the human village. Roll credits.

The Jungle Book's got a lot going for it, including a pretty solid (especially for mid-Disney) jazzy soundtrack. And let's not forget that its characters (well, some of them) were memorable enough to be recycled into the much-beloved Talespin. What's not to like? Baloo reminds me of an aged hippie I once saw perform at a coffeehouse - sure, some of the college kids there laughed at the guy, but I had a strong respect for a guy who lived his life according to the "bare necessities" style. Distinct from the "run from your troubles" philosophy espoused by the likewise bug-eating Timon and Pumbaa, Baloo advocates relaxation techniques, an appreciation of the simple things, and a high-fiber diet. Sure, he's a bit irresponsible, but ya love the guy.

And then there's the supporting cast - Shere Khan, who's like Scar before we had Scar (though a little less campy). Kaa, for all of you who wondered what Winnie the Pooh would sound like if honey could fight back. King Louie, who some have called out as an African-American stereotype (though Louis Prima, his voice actor, is in fact Italian-American) - it's true, the jazzy tunes of the movie sort of come to an awkward space when you've got a bunch of monkeys talking about being like man. But, this is a movie filled with all sorts of stereotypes, and I really do think the girl is really the worst one. Not that it's ever good to play the "which is worst" game when we're talking stereotyping, but I don't see why King Louie should be singled out as particularly egregious, especially when we consider the profiling and sticky racial matters wrapped up in many fables and tales (and their Disney extensions).

But here's the problem. Bagheera's the beating heart of the story's plot as it moves forward, and Mowgli's front and center there too. But, uh... if this is supposed to be a story about Mowgli growing up (a la Lion King)... why does his character never develop? I'm okay with Bagheera being a bit of a stick in the mud and all (even if he's preachy and just a teensy bit evangelical sounding), but how are we supposed to look at the movie as a whole when Mowgli suddenly has a drastic shift away from his objective, even though his obstacle (Shere Khan) has been eliminated? Oh! Look! A deus-ex-hussy, batting her ten-year-old peepers and singing about being a submissive wife! Of course! MOWGLI IS TEN YEARS OLD! Come on! Does anyone really think a ten year old boy would choose shacking up with some random chick over bumming around with his buddies? Unlike Simba, he's not running from some sordid past. He has to go back to the human village simply because "different species don't belong together." It's "natural." Well, I just think that's silly. Maybe if Mowgli had slowly started to see that the jungle wasn't the place for him, or, maybe if Baloo had in fact been killed defending him, maybe then Mowgli might actually make a choice (perhaps even with a flirtatious dame as his tipping point). But, without that, the ending manages to be both sad and disappointing.

From RM:

A brief note on Phil Harris. The voice of Baloo, Little John in Disney's Robin Hood, and the apocryphal O'Malley from The Aristocats. Awesome voice. Indeed, the voice acting they trot out for this film is really top notch. From Phil Harris to the aforementioned Loius Prima, Sterling "Pooh Bear/Smee" Holloway as the surprisingly menacing Kaa, Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera, and the Elephants (Who sound like British Safari Colonels, my favorite kind of Colonel), it really is a stellar cast. Which is why some of the other points falling a little short is a bit of a shame. The score has two truly timeless tunes, in "Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You" are in the elite pantheon of great Disney numbers. The others, while impossible to remember five minutes after you heard them, are also catchy and fun, except for maybe the girl's song where she basically says a career as a schoolmarm, nurse, secretary or stewardess is just a little to new-fangled for her simple housewifey dreams.

The politicization of the jungle is put in a very stark contrast in this film in comparison to the other Disney films we've watched so far. That is to say, The objectives for each character are so clear that crystal looks like shit in comparison. Everyone in the jungle is out for number one, except for Bagheera and maybe the buzzards at the end. Even Baloo makes it clear that the reason he likes having Mowgli around is mostly selfish. There is no clear hero->hero's sidekick->villain's sidekick-> villain progression. Everyone has the possibility to do good or harm to our little living prop, Mowgli. And that was satisfying to see, even if the end is a bit of a cop-out. The art, as well, is not only low-budget (not Disney's fault) but repetitive (very much Disney's fault).

I'm also willing to forgive a great deal of the lack of female characterization in this film because of the source material. If I had to look at any author in the English language and pick the guy who really HATES women, Good ol' Rudyard has to be near the top of the list. So to a certain extent I forgive that.

You may think a B- a little harsh for this process. Don't get us wrong. It's a great film. It's just there are a lot of these little problems that add up, which keep it from being in the elite level of Disney cinema.

Final Grade: B-

Final Standings:
1.) The Lion King
2.) Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
3.) The Jungle Book
4.) Fun and Fancy Free


Newer Post Older Post Home