Living up to the Jungle Book's jazzy soundtrack, Mowgli and his animal pals find themselves beboppin' and scattin' their way through the jumpin' and jivin' jungles of India. Though, lying beneath all that jazz is the complex relationship between man and the various denizens of the jungle. Specifically, there's Mowgli the man cub whose upbringing is the source of much hullaballoo (pun INTENDED!) between the practical Bagheera and the happy-go-lucky Baloo. And, with Mowgli, he's doing everything in his power to avoid living amongst his own kind in favour of maintaining his feral and carefree lifestyle in accordance with the “Bare Necessities.” Then, on a more general level, there's the psychotic King Louie who desperately wants to be a man while Shere Kahn is driven by a murderous streak to kill all man. Man o' man!
From the moment Bagheera found the infant Mowgli abandoned on that riverbank, the black panther has had nothing but the young man cub's best interests at heart. Whether it was leaving Mowgli to be raised by the family of wolves or deciding to drop him off at the local “man village” in order to escape Shere Kahn, his approach was decidedly practical. Yet, it was in that myopic and austere line of thinking that intensified Mowgli's need to rebel against both Bagheera and manhood. The ten-year-old Mowgli was desperate to be anything but a man – whether it is to join Colonel Hathi's elephant patrol, live out his days with Baloo as a bear cub or even flirt with the idea of becoming an honorary member in a venue of mop-topped vultures. But, it's with the aforementioned Baloo that provides Mowgli with the greatest and most substantive diversion to his impending manhood. All it took was less than a day of cavorting about with the big, cuddly sloth bear for Mowgli to refer to his new pal as “Papa Bear” and for Baloo, in turn, to “love him like he's my own cub” and have serious aspirations of adopting him. Yet, it's with Bagheera's bordering-on-offensive speech about “birds of a feather” and asking Baloo the hypothetical question of if he'd “marry a panther” that convinces the liberal bear that the more conservative plan of taking Mowgli to the “man village” would be best. But, of course, Mowgli would remain steadfast in his stance against all things “man” until he spots (pun INTENDED!) a young girl cub fetching water outside the man village and his fear of the unknown immediately shifts into an enchanting curiosity (ooh, la and la!) as he chooses his fate on his own terms – LIKE A MAN!
Living life as a self-aware orangutan and knowing that you are soooo biologically close to being a man yet, not, is enough to drive anyone crazy. And, poor King Louie scats this in his song “I Wan’na Be Like You” much more articulately than I ever could have with my own convoluted prose:
Now I'm the king of the swingers
Oh, the jungle VIP
I've reached the top and had to stop
And that's what botherin' me
I wanna be a man, mancub
And stroll right into town
And be just like the other men
I'm tired of monkeyin' around!
Oh, oobee doo
I wanna be like you
I wanna walk like you
Talk like you, too
You'll see it's true
An ape like me
Can learn to be human too
Yikes! Louie is like the “Single White Female” of the Jungle, nay, the Single Orange Ape! Unfortunately for him, he swings too close to fire and, in a manic fit of jazz; his palatial ruins are... ruined. Sure, kidnapping Mowgli was wrong but Louie's obsessions are mostly harmless to everyone other than himself. Shere Kahn, on the other hand, is very dangerous. His singular goal to kill all men is driven by his fear of “man's guns and man's fire.” Surely, he must have experienced some sort of trauma to inspire such evil but it's all a mystery to us. All we know is that even a 10-year-old boy in a red diaper isn't enough to dissuade his murderous ways. But really, he's just a big ol' scaredy cat and that bears out when he freaks the freak out when Mowgli ties that flaming branch to his tail.
Mowgli the man wants to be an animal, Bagheera the panther thinks man is best with men, Baloo the bear wishes to raise a man like his own, King Louie the ape has aspirations of being a man and Shere Kahn the Tiger desires to kill all man. It's hard to cipher what this all means other than that man has had quite the impact on the Indian jungle and, vice-a-versa, on Mowgli. It probably has something to do with the British colonization of the more indigenous India but that's way too high-brow and involved for this blog. I'd much rather take a page from Baloo's “Bare Necessities:”
And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true
On a more whimsical note...
Taking place in Madhya Pradesh, India, The Jungle Book features the most exotic real-life Disney backdrop to this point. Contrary to popular belief, Wonderland and Neverland are NOT real places.
Mowgli has no nipples.
Mowgli says nary a word nor does he seem all that affected by leaving the only family he's ever known in the wolf pack. It's pretty cold on his part considering Rama saw Mowgli as a son.
Granted, if living in a jungle and partaking in wild sing-alongs with a big cuddly bear and psychotic apes is all you knew, who could blame Mowgli for wanting to leave all that behind for the stuffy old man village?
Like One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Disney would also release a live action The Jungle Book (1994). Although, it was much less successful.
Bagheera sure is judgmental – he describes Baloo as being nothing more than a “shiftless, stupid jungle bum” while King Louie is a mere “undesirable, scatter-brained ape.” I'm not quite sure what ol' Baggy expects out of poor Baloo... I mean, how much ambition and direction could a sloth bear living in the jungle really have? It's not like he could open up a small yet successful business selling paw paws and prickly pears. On the other hand, he pretty much has Louie pegged.
Bagheera always knew Mowgli would have to go back to his own kind... why didn't he bring him back when he was a baby? Also, to that end, was Mowgli abandoned or was the broken jungle canoe evidence of his family having died in a wreck?
Kaa sure is kreepy! His relationship with man isn’t complicated at all – he just wants to eat ‘em!
We learn that Colonel Hathi is the proud winner of an '88 Victoria Cross – the highest British military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of enemy” to members of the armed forces.
In a movie about “man,” Hathi's wife, Winifred, is the only female with a speaking role. Playing her was Disney legend, Verna Felton who is best known as providing the voices for the Fairy Godmother (Cinderella) and the Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland).
If I may be racial, I always assumed that both Baloo and King Louie were voiced by black men. Au Contraire! Baloo was played by jazz musician and comedian Phil Harris while Louie was played by famous band leader and trumpeteer Louis Prima.
The Jungle Book marked the first time, other than Peggy Lee's small part in Lady and the Tramp, that Disney used so many well-known entertainers to both voice and inspire the design of their animated characters.
Also taken from a real-life figure was Shere Kahn as well-known actor George Sanders.
The Jungle Book could've had other, even much more famous players. Walt Disney originally wanted The Beatles to play the vultures. When they declined, Disney still fashioned one of the four after Ringo Starr.