Book break #1: The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

Yesterday I read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, after watching the new live-action Disney film version earlier on this month. It had been on my bookshelf for years, yet I had avoided reading it out of my prejudice against ugly book covers. Yes, the image beneath the cover is the same. Compared to the live-action film, in the book Mowgli is more wild, the animals are less adorable, and we hear and see more of humans.

Me being me, I had to dig for more. Here are some trivia I found on…

I liked the story, and would recommend it for a bank holiday read. I am looking forward to reading the next story in the book – the story of Mowgli takes up less than half of my book – which is called The White Seal. In it, from my little peek ahead, there is a character called Pantalamon, and seeing that Rudyard Kipling once wrote about his “daemon”, which in Philip Pullman’s novel series His Dark Materials is a manifestation of the human soul…

My Daemon was with me in the Jungle BooksKim, and both Puck books, and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not, because when those books were finished they said so themselves with, almost, the water-hammer click of a tap turned off. One of the clauses in our contract was that I should never follow up ‘a success,’ for by this sin fell Napoleon and a few others. Note here. When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey.

…I am very interested to see whether Kipling’s Pantalamon – and I think he is a human, not an animal – was the inspiration for Pullman’s Pantalaimon, the daemon of his main character. I am thinking that the name is just a sign of Pullman’s tribute to Kipling. Now I am wishing that I read The Jungle Book earlier, so that I could have asked him when I met him at a balloon debate in Oxford.

Now all that remains is to watch the animated Disney film! I have never watched it before, though I know the songs “The Bare Necessities” and ‘I Wanna Be Like You” from Disney soundtracks. Though “Trust in Me” is in my Disney Songbook, only when I was looking for pieces to play did I realise that the lyrics were not specially composed for the live-action film, but was in the original animated version.

spoilers My stream of consciousness, whilst reading:

The wolves are strict Shere Khan was lame from birth and is seen as a coward talk about discrimination against the disabled Mowgli means “frog” Akela is not the mate of Mowgli’s wolf mother Baloo is the only wolf not allowed in the Pack Council and appears so early on in the story Bagheera bought Mowgli for the price of a bull so Mowgli must not kill cattle Mother Wolf really hates Shere Khan doesn’t she Bagheera was born in captivity Mowgli is 10 he doesn’t know what tears are Akela does not die it is Baloo who is the stricter teacher Kaa is male and he helps to rescue from the monkeys talk about Disney stereotyping animals there’s a peacock called Mao when Mowgli gets a beating the blows are called “love-taps” I’m not halfway through and Shere Khan is DEAD Mowgli is not very nice to his mother he became a man and married oh the story ends here at the book’s halfway point I see I hope no bulls died during the final showdown because Mowgli should not kill bulls 2 things children should remember “there is nothing so unlucky to compliment children to their faces” and “punishment settles all scores”.

My thoughts after watching the Disney animation:

As if Channel 4 had read my blog post, it showed The Jungle Book, the 1967 Disney animated film, soon afterwards and so I finally got to see it! The first pre-2000-released Disney film that I’ve watched first in English and not Cantonese, as it turns out. There are so many similarities to draw between this film and another of Disney’s films, Robin Hood, that I thought that The Jungle Book had borrowed most of its characters from it! The elephant march of Colonel Hathi with the song that begins “oh the aim of our patrol, is a question rather droll…” sounds like the whistle stop song in Robin Hood, and Baloo looks like Little John while Kaa is almost identical to Sir Hiss. But no – Robin Hood was made in 1973. What it may well have borrowed was the elephants from Dumbo (1941) and the child-crying-comforted-by-vultures scene from Alice in Wonderland (1951). All in all, apart from the classic song “The Bear Necessities”, the puns, and that rather realistic waterfall in the opening scene, it was a fairly weak film, which missed out the best parts of the book: the beginning and end where they missed out the indoctrination of the law of the jungle and the epic showdown between Mowgli and Shere Khan. Granted, Rama, or “Father Wolf” in Rudyard Kipling’s book, actually features here alongside Akela and the mother wolf Raksha, unlike in the live-action version, but the wolves have the briefest of screen times. It’s a lot less bloody than the book, and its Mowgli is less mature and lovable. Having escaped the “hug” (that’s what it’s called in the book) of Kaa, he is then transfixed by the girl who sings at the river. A single batting of the lashes is all it takes, which is slightly creepy and outdated for the 21st century audience. Nevertheless, well done Channel 4, for showing the film in the week where a “father”, Bagheera, leaving his “boy” Mowgli in a forest inhabited by a “bear”, Baloo, in order to teach him a lesson, is most topical.

My verdict? Now that I’ve watched both versions, I can assuredly say that Disney’s live-action version of The Jungle Book is the better one. Previously, I just thought that it was better crafted than The Life of Pi, since it had both state-of-the-art CGI and an actual plot and characters that the audience could get behind. I would have been interested to see translated onto the screen the contrast between the seemingly more civilised jungle life and the less civilised and superstitious village life that is defined in Kipling’s book, but I also accept that it would have made the plot unnecessarily long and messy, not to mention boring for children. Compared to Kipling’s book, Disney definitely overdid the CGI – there are so, so many animals in the live-action film – but having seen the animated version I understand why. It’s not just to rev up the cuteness factor but to make the film worthy of its title: the animals in the animated version are so humanlike that if it weren’t for the songs constantly reminding us, I would almost have forgotten that Mowgli was in a jungle. Which kind of defeats the point of a story called The Jungle Book. So, after my jibes at Cinderella and my scorn for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, I am chastened. Maleficent was what started off my dislike of live-action films – had I forgotten how much I liked 101 Dalmatians? – and it wasn’t even a remake. And neither was Enchanted.

I will not underappreciate a Disney live-action remake again, and now totally get why it has become India’s highest grossing Hollywood film ever.

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