Normally I talk politics on Friday. But, frankly, nothing much has changed since the LAST time I talked politics (other than this loathesome little bit of news, which I do wish to discuss a bit later). Nope. So, instead, I wanna lay some jive on you hepcats and hotpatooties about some swwwiiingin' celluloid I, like, viddied just yesterday: The Jungle Book.My beloved wife neither flags nor fails in her attempt to wean our larvae off of abominations like "Power Rangers" and whatever other toy-tie-in is being marketed as kid entertainment. She found the old '67 Disney film at our outstanding local library and we all (well, OK, all of us minus Little Miss, who was sort-of-asleep, which is also a post for another day) snuggled down to watch.
This flick is possibly the poster child for "What is a Disneyfied Object". It's just fucking wierd, for one thing. It lifts the name, the main characters and the central Indian jungle setting out of the Kipling book and then proceeds to warp them waaaaay the hell out of shape. There's no real storyline; the whole thing is just episodes loosely strung together. Possibly the oddest part is the way the characters talk. Our hero, Mowgli, talks like a typical American Sixties kid. His pal Bagheera and his enemy Shere Khan have plummy, upper-class English accents, while there is a quartet of vultures thrown in near the end for comic relief who vary from bad Cockney to even worse Liverpudlian. Plus it's a musical (what Disney film of the Sixties wasn't?), and as untrue to the original as ever a film adaptation has been. The Seeonee wolfpack, central to the stories, is disposed of in a single, brief scene two minutes into the film. The Anglo-Indianness, the mystery and the dark elements of the stories, gone. Major characters, gone, or their attributes changed all out of shape.
You'd think it'd suck immense pipe, huge, industrial-grade, 24-foot-diameter precast concrete stormwater pipe.
In fact, of all the Disney cartoons I've sat through in three years of childrearing I'd have to say that TJB is perhaps the most bearable, even almost enjoyable.
There are a couple reasons for this.
The voices, for one, are terrific. The boy who voices Mowgli is someone named Bruce Reitherman. I've never heard of him, but he has a genuinely likeable kid voice, neither Caillou-whiny nor Diego-perky. Both the cats, but especially George Saunders as Shere Khan, are wonderful; Saunders had perfected the delightfully insinuating English villian long before Alan Rickman was out of smallclothes.
The songs are tolerable, and even enjoyable in the case of Baloo's "Bear Necessities" and King Louis' "Monkey Song" (of course, having Phil Harris and Louis Prima along to do your singing doesn't hurt). Even the little song "The Girl" sings at the end of the film has such a pretty little hook that I found myself humming it as I worked out in the field today. (And just as a note, I liked that this version is dubbed in Hindi!).
It's totally hep as a Sixties artifact; both Baloo and King Louis are real honest-to-God swingin', jive-talking, scat-singing hipster beatniks (although, typically, the Disney brandsters are about five to ten years behind real life - their 1967 characters are more like 1957 beatniks than the hippies then looking for the Summer of Love). But the doobopdoobop Swingin' vibe is strong: I expected to see a cartoon Dean Martin, jungle martini glass in hand, come bopping out of the jungle at any moment.
But what absolutely sold me was...
The movie Kaa is NOT the book Kaa. For one thing, in the book Kaa is Mowgli's friend, wise to the secrets of the jungle and helpful to the curious boy. In the stories Kaa fascinates by his swaying, not the eyeball hypnosis he works in the flick. But all this is bye the bye, because Kaa is voiced by Sterling Holloway.
You probably don't know that name. But if I showed you this guy you'd know him:
Yep. Kaa is Winnie the Pooh in snake drag.
Mojo hated that. She snarled "He's Winnie the Pooh!" in a shocked, almost angry voice, as if this was a kind of unique betrayal of the Silly Old Bear on the part of the Disney people. But, goddam it, I think that was the best part of the whole movie.
Because, you see, Kaa IS Winnie the Pooh. He's Winnie gone wrong, the AntiPooh, the evil, Dark Side of Pooh Bear; the part that really wants to take a hatchet to that fuckin' manic, hyperkinetic pain-in-the-ass Tigger, get really ripped on some 180-proof honey mead and show Kanga his "Poohstick" and then burn down the entire Hundred Aker Wood and dance among the flames like Shiva within the Ring of Fire.
But he can't, of course. Because he's Pooh. Pooh, the gentle, inept, passive-aggressive fuckup. Pooh the nitwit. Pooh the goof. As Kaa, he likes to think of himself as a cunning, ruthless predator even as he's constantly foiled by the heroes Mowgli and Bagheera and, when confronted by a REAL badass, Shere Khan simply slaps him aside.Because even when he's being bad, he's not good at it. Because even as Kaa, he's still Pooh. Still scatterbrained and limp as a biscuit. He's poohness personified. He hates it at the same time he realizes that it's his fate and he cannot escape it. As the good guys shove him out of the tree and he falls like Lucifer, again, you can almost hear him lament in his soft, sweet-yet-irritating Winnie-the-Pooh plaint:
Anyway, I leave you with the whacked-out beatnik bliss of Louis Prima as King Louis and "I Wanna Be Like You"...Like, so gone, baby...skiddleyot scoot scooby baba hey na na!