Friday, July 25, 2008

Oop Shooby, daddio...

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.

It doesn't.

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:

"Oh, BOther."


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!


MeghanH said...

I had the Jungle Book soundtrack on vinyl circa 1981...I hadn't thought about "I wanna be like you-uu-uuu" in eons. Man, I got some swingin' tunes out of that Fisher-Price record player back in the day.

Red Sand (aka Mrs. V) said...

Apparently there's something incredibly reassuring about these films - just finished picking up three of them for a 20-yr-old sister recovering from wisdom tooth surgery...

You Know Where You Are With said...

See, now, THIS is why I love to read the Chief. Kaa as Pooh. Allrightythen.

At my aesthetics conference last week in Santa Fe, I sat through a rather convoluted paper on The Jungle Books and their deep ecology politics--not to mention their post-colonialism. Pretty amazing stuff for its day.

FDChief said...

Meghan: like I say, one of the coolest artifacts of this flick is the beatnik groove it has on. Like, faaaade me, daddy-o..."

RS: they are comfort food for the brain; nothing really bad happens in a bright, well-lit, well-fed basically happy world. About as un-like Kipling as you'd find, but as discussed, this is Walt, not Rudyard.

YK: I always read them as sort of little late Victorian morality plays. The one thing that is always lurking, too, is the centrality of Mowgli as the human and as such the Lord of Creation. So as 21st Century deep ecology, maybe with a twist but not, I think, straight up.

The real characteristic Kipling thing, where his Anglo-Indianness shows most, is his love of all things "truly Indian", that is, pre-conquest, unaffected by British improvement and uplift. He loves the jungle and its dwellers because they're NOT half-native, half-colonial hybrids; they're the Old Gods.

If you want to read Kipling in all his vicious 19th Century racist vigor (not that anyone would want to), just find any of his stories where a "babu" or a "Bengali" turns up. He's sure to be a greasy little man with the soul of a rat turd. Ironic that he and people like him spent generations among the people they ruled by conquest ostensibly to "civilize" and "Christianize"...and in the end the native peoples and things (like his jungle animals) were the ones that they "uplifted" the least.

Odd. But wonderful stories.

FDChief said...

" the end the native peoples and things (like his jungle animals) they liked the most were the ones that they "uplifted" the least."

Oops. That's better.

Dee said...

I hope I didn't get any on ya. "Anti-Pooh" made me do a spit take.

walternatives said...

I absolutely adore this movie. The first time that I saw it was at a drive-in, in my pajamas. The last time was just a few years ago, with nephews. I have Los Lobos version of "I Wanna Be Like You" on heavy iTunes rotation.

For a freaked-out children's movie, watch Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, but probably without the kids. The first half is docile, sweet, then it zips to dark, scary, like an acid trip (appropo for the time, I guess).

FDChief said...

W: Any film which designates its heroine as "Truly Scrumptious" will find a place in my heart.

Chitty, chitty, indeed...

Lisa said...

What a wicked deconstruction of Kaa/Winnie. I would love to have your interpretation of A.A. Milnes' Winnie vs. the Disney version. Or just your take on the Disney version.

Pooh as lumbering everyman? The apotheosis of schlemieldom? Yeah, actually any cartoon character you want to break down would be more than fascinating, I'm sure.

Hmmm...I don't imagine they got you with the Tao of Pooh book, eh?!

"Bare Necessities" became a mantra for my life, though.

FDChief said...

"Bare Necessities" became a mantra for my life, though.

I wish that it had been "Lush Life" rather. But I understand the sentiment.

Mr. Saunders IS an interesting fellow, in his rumptetey, tumptetey, silly old bear way. Hang around and I'd bet I'll dissect another cartoon character or two.

Lisa said...

Lush Life, indeed! A man after my own heart. Well, it's never too late to change one's tune.

I'll keep "Bare Necessities" around as a reminder of the pleasures of simplicity. Before simplicity became cool.

sheerahkahn said...

FD, I have to say you've outed me...I took my s/n from Sherekhan and turned it around, threw in extra "a" and "h", and voila, the name stuck, but it was home with my boys when I got laid off from my defense job that we watched the Jungle Book...almost daily.
"I want to be like you" is still, to this day, my favorite, while being my favorite monkey as well.
BTW, I love the Kaa/Pooh comparison...rofl!