Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Jungle Book (1967)

It's interesting how this movie contains no prey animals, other than a deer that Shere Khan the tiger is going to attack until it gets chased away. This is Shere Khan's first scene, and it appears to be setting up how eeeeevil he is, which is a bit much, really--are we now to believe that panthers and wolves are vegetarians? Still, this is nitpicking, and it's probably Kipling's fault more than Disney's in any case.

Is it also nitpicking to note that after the elephant patrol is persuaded to search for the missing Mowgli…they completely disappear from the movie? CONTINUITY ERROR. Mowgli's wolf family also vanishes quite abruptly. And as long as we're complaining, it really should be noted that the decision to model the four vultures after the Beatles was decidedly NOT a wise one (though, I suppose, understandable for a film released in 1967). It could be a lot worse, however: one of the bonus features on the DVD shows the storyboards from an alternate version of the vulture sequence which would have featured a deleted character, a rhinoceros named Rocky who firmly embodies the DUUUURRR mental retardation thing. Believe me: NOBODY is sorry that Rocky was eliminated.

No point complaining too much, though, because this is still a pretty solid movie, featuring four really great characters. I loved Phil Harris as O'Malley in The Aristocats, and I love him here too, as Baloo the sloth bear. The guy has an exceptionally appealing, mellow voice, and it's hard not to like any character he's portraying (except in the case of the dire Robin Hood, where you kind of hate all the characters--not Harris' fault, however). King Louie may be a marginal character (and I can't help but note that there are NO ORANGUTANS IN INDIA), but as voiced by Louis Prima, he's got great, infectious exuberance, and his scene's just plain fun to watch.

Disney stalwart Sterling Holloway as Kaa and George Sanders as Shere Khan also really sell their characters, the former perfectly nailing the kind of ssssnakey fascination that the movie is going for, the latter an enormous, understated power--a sense that at any moment his jaded, contemptuous amusement could explode into a devastating, deadly force. The bleeding heart in me protests that tigers should not be shown as villains, but you can't argue with the results, and again--Kipling's fault.

So yeah, decent movie that I pretty much recommend. Too bad about the ending, though. I saw this movie many years ago, sometime in the mid-eighties I suppose, in a theatrical rerelease, and from that, I remembered absolutely nothing--literally--with the exception of the conclusion with the girl--and the reason I remembered that was that I found it absolutely, unspeakably mortifying. Obviously, I'm less sensitive to such things these days, but it's still jarringly sudden, rushed, and out-of-nowhere, and it's still a toxic combination of overbearing cutesiness and egregious-even-by-Disney-standards heteronormativity. Blech.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

"are we now to believe that panthers and wolves are vegetarians? Still, this is nitpicking, and it's probably Kipling's fault more than Disney's in any case."

Oh, I don't know about that. In the book, Bagheera talks about slaughtering a buffalo (which he then gives to the wolf pack in exchange for Mowgli's life) in his very first appearance. It's made very clear that nearly all the other animals are terrified of him.


12:00 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

So there you go (my dad read me these stories when I was small, but I don't remember much). Sure, you don't expect too much nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw from a Disney movie, but at least The Lion King made some effort, however clumsy, to address the issue.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Melvin pontificated to the effect that...

um, please don't use mental retardation as a prop for humorous comment. A lot of people find it offensive. I know it can be hard to shake such a habit, but you'd be better for it.

8:32 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

You should probably pass that along to Disney--I wasn't trying to make a joke out of anything; I was just pointing out that that's what they were trying to do with the character, and therefore we should all be grateful that he was excised from the movie.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Melvin pontificated to the effect that...

I'll have to beg your pardon, GeoX. You have me at a slight disadvantage as I'm not particularly familiar with the movie...It must have been an egregiously insensitive cartoon-rhinoceros, so as to be so recognizably handicapped.
Anyhow, keep up the good work.

12:14 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

No problem at all.

Anyway, this was at a time when there wasn't much distinction in popular culture between plain ol' dumbness and mental handicappedness. The two were kind of rolled up together, and you sure wouldn't expect to see much sensitivity regarding the latter. I doubt that anyone at Disney was literally thinking "okay--now this character is going to have a mental disability, and this will be HILARIOUS" per se, but that's definitely the way it comes across to me. There are dumb characters in contemporary Disney movies too, but you would never see them portrayed in this way.

The most egregious example I know of this is one of the players in The Longest Yard (a terrible movie for this and oh-so-many other reasons)--if you've seen that, you can perhaps imagine the kind of thing I'm talking about.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Kaitlyn pontificated to the effect that...

I'm torn.

I do appreciate Melvin's comments and your response. (So many people would have said stop being so sensitive, FREE SPEECH1!!!!1!!)

However, you dissed Robin Hood.

So conflicted now.

(And I know about most of RH's faults - the recycled animation, the really out of place accents...)

10:49 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Yeah, I know a lot of people like Robin Hood, and I guess I just have to accept that, but gosh--I find it absolutely unbearably juvenile, and the utter, cocky confidence of Robin and company in the face of Prince John's buffoonery--it's a hugely unappealing dynamic, to me.

I will say this for Robin Hood: it's not as bad as Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Then again, neither is bubonic plague.

11:58 PM  

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