Wednesday, August 1, 2012

1967 - The Jungle Book

And now we come to the movie that, in a way, was Walt Disney’s last. Of course, in a way, the previous one was his last, and in a way, so is the next. And so is the one two after that one. You know what? It’s hard to come up with these intros, so cut me some slack. Anyway, this was the final one Walt worked on personally, and though he didn’t live to see its completion, his spirit lives on in his animation staff, his classic voice actors, and his specific request that the filmmakers not read the book. आप इस पढ़ने में परेशानी हो रही है? So am I. So go pick a pawpaw or a prickly pear (Both of which are found only in America, and not at all in India, so I don’t know why Baloo sings about them,) and let’s talk about the Jungle Book.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m a guy who likes to read. If you haven’t, hi, welcome to the blog! I like to read! I have, in fact, read most of the books that these films are based on, though I try to only bring it up when it’s pertinent. (I was biting my tongue so hard writing the One Hundred and One Dalmatians entry.)  Given Disney’s request that his animators not read the book, I figure I should let you know the fruits of that in the ever handy list format.

* In the book, Baloo is the more strict of Mowgli’s teachers and is responsible for teaching him the Law of the Jungle. In the movie, he’s a fun-loving slacker who teaches Mowgli to relax.
* Book Bagheera and Movie Bagheera are both serious and responsible, but Book Bagheera is prone to spoil Mowgli and is the most easygoing of his teachers.
* Book Kaa is Mowgli’s third teacher, rescues him on several occasions, and is very proud and confident. Movie Kaa is a villain, distrusted by all, tries to eat Mowgli, and is a cowardly sycophant.
* Book Shere Khan is a cripple, with a deformed front leg that causes him to limp, and despite his arrogant bluster and surprising hunting ability, is disrespected by the other animals. He kills humans for fun, because they are weak. Movie Shere Khan is physically powerful and feared by all, and hunts humans because he’s afraid of their guns and fire.
* The Bandar-log from the book are a disordered society, and it is specifically and frequently stated they have no king. In the movie, the monkeys are led by King Louie, an orangutan, which is a species that isn’t found anywhere near India.
* The ‘Mow’ in Mowgli rhymes with ‘cow’ in the book, but ‘glow’ in the movie.

Thy hypnosis thing is actually in the book, only he does it by dancing. Like John Travolta.

So the question becomes, why even make an adaptation? If you’re going to ignore so many essential elements of the book in your movie, why purport to be basing a movie on that book? Well, it’s not actually always, or even usually a bad thing. Sometimes it’s intentional, like in Paul Verhoven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers, which was made as a satirical reaction to the rah-rah militarism of the novel. Sometimes it’s more inadvertent, that the filmmakers saw something in the book that sparked ideas in their minds in some other direction, and they thought a different interpretation would be better, like Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining. Or Lolita. Or a Clockwork Orange. Or - You know what? He does it a lot. Moving on. The good thing is that as I have demonstrated, you can still wind up with very good movies. (Yes, Starship Troopers is very good. If you disagree, shut up.)

I’m not really sure why they felt the need to change things so drastically, as the basic structure of the film is pretty much the same as the earlier Mowgli stories in the book. Man-cub lost in the jungle, raised with animals, sent off to join the human village as he grows old. And with a good, iconic narrative like that to build on, Disney produced an excellent film, and the characters they created, while very different, are also completely wonderful. There’s one bit that’s just Baloo and Bagheera standing there and expositing for like five minutes, and I didn’t get a bit bored, due to the writers’ great grasp of the characters, aided by the fantastic acting.

I am somewhat unnerved that this was the first image result for screencaps. 

This is pretty much the first movie where Disney really went for big name talent, even trying to get the Beatles at one point. Sebastian Cabot returns, playing Bagheera and doing an excellent job of it. Louis Prima’s King Louie is also fantastic, with Prima’s legendarily swinging voice livening up his scene. Sterling Holloway makes another welcome return, this time as a villain. His Kaa is actually really creepy. Baloo is magnificently voiced by singer Phil Harris, who will also have a leading part in our next two films. George Sanders as Shere Khan sounds exactly how you’d expect a man-eating tiger to. There’s also reliable Disney utility players Thurl Ravenscroft (yaaaaaay), Pat O’Malley, Verna Felton, Hal Smith, Ralph Wright, and Clint Howard as the elephant troop. Mowgli is voiced by the director’s only son that didn’t get to play Wart, and he’s way better than the other two were.

This elephant is played by Clint Howard. I hope you relish him as much as I.

Songs are FANTASTIC. Oh, it feels so good to say that! I’m so tired of saying the songs are bland with a couple of standouts, but that’s really what I’ve been given, mostly. I think this is really where we begin the true tradition of Disney animated films also being excellent musicals (Not to say we won’t have a few more missteps to come). The music is all written by one songwriting team, The Sherman Brothers, which also helps a lot. I haven’t mentioned it, but a lot of these have had songs by multiple writers working independently, which means the sound of the films tends to come off as inconsistent, which can be a real problem in musicals. It’s not something that really gets noticed on a conscious level, but I really felt it in this one. Even though the jazzy sounds of “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” couldn’t be further from the military drill of “Colonel Hathi’s March” or the dreamy smoothness of “Trust in Me” and “My Own Home”, the songs really hang together excellently and fit the film perfectly. The vultures also get a song, but it’s pretty lousy, and notable only because that’s what they were trying to get the Beatles to sing. So it really does sound like a faux-Beatles thing and suffers for it.

Animation is also great. The xerography is used to great effect, with the center masses of the animals very smoothly animated, but sketchy edges utilized for fur. Lots of fun with the characters’ physical attributes, especially Kaa’s immense length and King Louie’s lanky arms. There’s some occasional mishaps, like when the snake gets a hairy back, but all in all, this is some of the best animation we get from this method, in the best movie we get in this era.

Sweet! Free lunch!


* The music for these last few has been written by a guy named George Bruns, and even though I should expect it by now, I still always go “Huh? George Burns?”

* That shot of Bambi’s mom running away turns up again. Bit out of place here, but you know, Orangutans.

* You may have noticed I always type out One Hundred and One Dalmatians, rather than the sensible abbreviation 101 Dalmatians. This is for the simple reason that One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the name of the movie. 101 Dalmatians is the live-action remake. And the book is The Hundred and One Dalmatians. This was for some reason important to tell you.

* Bruce Reitherman was actually the second actor they cast for Mowgli, as the first kid’s voice changed during production. Ahem.

* Contrary to what my brother might tell you, I like the Stanley Kubrick movie of the Shining. I just think it’s a failure as an adaptation, which is not a bad thing, and it’s not particularly any better than the TV-movie remake. Both have ups and downs. So does the book. Frankly, they could all be trying a little harder.

* The book version of The Shining is getting a sequel, called “Doctor Sleep”. It’s about Danny and his psychic cat driving around the country and fighting cannibals. Don’t worry, the full plot description makes it sound much worse.

* Sorry I’m not more on topic. I just can’t think of much more to say. It was really really good. Anyway, here’s Deems.

Oh, Deems. You make everything better.

1 comment:

  1. Actually Terry Gilkyson wrote “The Bear Necessities” rather than the Shermans.