“Man Cub”

A quick note first: this may seem to be posted early, but I’m attempting to increase the number of posts per week.  I cannot guarantee strict consistency of two posts per week; I work in retail and we are coming upon a busy time of year.  But I have so many more movies and some TV shows I’d like to get to!

Jungle Book

Based on the “Mowgli” stories of Rudyard Kipling (I think I tried to read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi when I was young; if I finished it, I didn’t like it). Based in India, it tells the story of a young “man cub” Mowgli who was lost as an infant in the jungle. He’s found by a panther, Bagheera, but taken to a family of wolves. Ten years later, a threat returns to the jungle; the tiger, Shere Kahn. The “man cub” must return to the “man village;” Shere Kahn fears and hates men and the tiger will not rest until Mowgli is dead and will kill any who protect the boy. Bagheera volunteers to lead Mowgli back to the village.

jungle book cover
The cover I remember from video tapes

Mowgli does not understand why he has to leave the only home he’s ever known. Along the way, Bagheera and Mowgli run into Kaa, the snake, who attempts to hypnotize Mowgli in order to eat him. Then they meet a herd of elephants, under the leadership of Colonel Hathi (with a catchy marching cadence). Mowgli seems to enjoy copying other animals’ mannerisms and continues to put up a fuss about leaving. At the end of his patience, Bagheera first growls at the child, “you’re going if I have to drag you every step of the way” (I’m sure this is what every parent tells a wayward child at some point) and finally exclaims that Mowgli is on his own!

Well, Mowgli next meets Baloo, a sloth bear (I didn’t realize what sort of bear he was until recently; as a child, he was always a bear. Not the same as Winnie the Pooh, but a bear nevertheless; possibly classified as a “grey bear” compared to a “black bear” or “grizzly bear.”) And Baloo is the opposite of Bagheera, who seems practical, while Baloo sings about the Bare Necessities and a carefree lifestyle. I’m still not sure what a “paw paw” or “prickly pear” are, but they were fun as a kid. [Upon re-watching, he’s almost a prequel to Timon and Pumba: carefree life, no worries, eat bugs.] Baloo takes an instant liking to “little britches” and quickly adopts the boy as his own cub. He promises Mowgli that he can stay in the jungle with “good ol’ Papa Bear.”

I Wanna Be Like You
“I Wanna Be Like You”

Until the monkeys nab him and take him to the ancient ruins to meet King Louie. The orangutan wants to Be Like You and makes a deal with the man cub; he’ll help Mowgli stay in the jungle in exchange for knowledge on how to make “man’s red flower” aka, fire. But Mowgli doesn’t know how to make fire, which we find out is one of Shere Kahn’s greatest fears (this may be why Louie wants to know how to create it). Mowgli is in fact rescued by Bagheera and Baloo and while he sleeps that evening, the two adults have a discussion; Mowgli must go back to the man village; he will be safer there, Baloo alone cannot protect him. When the bear tells the boy the news come morning, Mowgli runs…into Kaa again.

In the meantime, we are introduced to Shere Kahn. His deer hunt (yes, there are apparently deer in the jungle in India) is interrupted by the elephant brigade and he hears the news about a lost man cub. He was not aware that there was a man cub in the jungle. (Good going, heroes) So the tiger has joined the hunt for the man cub. Kaa has managed to hypnotize Mowgli again and prevent Shere Kahn from finding the boy, but Mowgli wakes and pushes the python out of the tree, again. Mowgli next comes across a group of vultures (nice ones, based off of the Beatles), but by this point, he’s depressed that none of his “friends” want to keep him around. All he wants to do is stay in the jungle and they keep making him leave. The vulture quartet explain What Friends Are For (they’ve never met an animal they didn’t like…adults get the double meaning), though they’re interrupted at the end with Shere Kahn’s appearance. Mowgli, being young and stupid, isn’t afraid of Shere Kahn and refuses to run, even when the tiger gives him a “sporting” head start. Luckily, Baloo arrives to grab the tiger’s tail and a rain storm picks up. Lightning strikes a tree, creating fire and the vultures urge Mowgli to act. The boy grabs a lit branch and ties it to Shere Kahn’s tail. The tiger runs off in fear; except he’s already struck down Baloo. Bagheera gives a touching eulogy…but Baloo’s not really dead.

Baloo declares “nothin or nobody gonna come between” him and his cub. Until they hear odd singing; a young girl is fetching water from the river. Mowgli wants a better look and (falls in love, I guess). Baloo urges him to come back to the jungle; Bagheera urges that he goes on to his own kind. Mowgli follows the girl into the village. The End.

In 2016, Disney re-made the animated tale into live action. I have seen it; though I haven’t been able to get my hands on it again. I do remember it being a more mature tale; Shere Kahn kills Mowgli’s wolf father. The film shows Mowgli as more human; using “tricks” to accomplish tasks rather than imitating other animals. I enjoy the jazzy soundtrack from the animated movie; they tried with Bare Necessities, but some of the charm was lost. The newer rendition of I Wanna Be Like You is dark and foreboding and Louie was large and definitely not Mowgli’s friend. The end is opposite from the animated; Mowgli does use fire to defeat Shere Kahn, but he stays in the jungle, rather than return to the man village.

2016 jungle book
Cover of the 2016 live-action version

There is sequel planned for the live-action movie, and a movie titled Mowgli due out in 2019 (directed by Andy Serkis [Gollum/Smegol] and starring Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Benedict Cumberbatch), though I’m not sure how closely it will resemble the Disney story. There was a direct sequel to the animated film – I saw it once and all I can remember is that Mowgli ended up in the jungle again, somehow, and there have been numerous other iterations of the Jungle Book story. I, however, remember the characters in the cartoon TaleSpin (I still have some of the episodes released on tapes), where Baloo is a pilot, Shere Kahn is a villainous business-tiger, and Louie runs a club. (I think some of my fondness stems from the fact that Baloo had a plane and my father loves flying and planes). [Fun note: the air pirates from TaleSpin show up in the rebooted DuckTales cartoon, with added singing. Further proof that I have not outgrown Disney]

talespin logo
TaleSpin logo

Oh, and if any of the voices from the animated film sound familiar; they are. Phil Harris was Baloo (Bill Murray in the live-action) and he went on to voice O’Malley in Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood (the animation style of the bears are very similar as well). Sebastian Cabot was Bagheera (Ben Kinsgley’s role in the live-action) and we’ve previously heard him as Sir Ector in Sword in the Stone and the always trusty Narrator in several movies. Sterling Holloway was Kaa (Scarlett Johanson in the live-action) and he’s the ever lovable Winnie the Pooh [I try to ignore that fact because that just makes things a little creepy]. Colonel Hathi was voiced J. Pat O’Malley, who seems to have a long run with Disney. Mowgli and Christopher Robin share Bruce Reitherman as a voice. Idris Elba as Shere Kahn and Christopher Walken as King Louie are other big name stars in the live-action adaptation.

In the spectrum of “Disney movies I like,” Jungle Book falls in the middle. I’d probably watch it if it was on television and didn’t have other plans. As a child, I thought it was fun for another child to live with animals; we like imitating them anyway. And Mowgli at least tries to make friends with other animals. I sided with Baloo and wanted Mowgli to stay with his jungle buddies. And the girl’s actions, even to me as a child, were obvious that she was trying to get Mowgli to go with her.

As always, let me know if you have any comments, or questions. What was your favorite Disney cartoon?

Next Time: Aristocats

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