Just as with the understated classics I want to set out my stall early on that good movies are good enough. Both Betty Blue and today’s choice The Jungle Book are never going to win any sort of consensus prize for the best movies ever made but they are really good. They also have a personal history attached that makes them worth writing about.
When I was younger both my sisters would be given VHS copies of Disney movies at a rate of about two a year, one for Christmas and one at their birthday. It seems strange today to think of that pace of movie acquisition, never mind the clunky VHS cassettes and how they would warp over time. I didn’t really ever get any of the Disney movies myself but I would inevitably find myself watching them with my sisters who would watch them repeatedly. With just four TV channels back then, who could blame us.
I guess we are talking about the years 1991 to 1995, something of a purple patch for Disney before Pixar came in with Toy Story and started to sweep away all before it. We’re definitely talking about movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and, of course, The Lion King. In between these videos, there would be reissues of older Disney movies like Peter Pan (which I can remember seeing in a cinema in Havant at about the age of 5 and laughing my head off throughout), Cinderella and my favourite The Jungle Book.
Being a little older than both my sisters, I guess that The Jungle Book resonated more with me both because I had been a cub scout and because it is basically an innocent coming of age tale with central characters that are almost exclusively male. This last point meant that from my point of view, The Jungle Book was less sappy than the others and I felt more comfortable watching it.
Fast forward to 2008 and I had just moved into my flat in St Albans. I was miserable: the job I had taken was not quite what I had expected, the commute was incredibly tiring and my downstairs neighbour was a crazy old guy who would have his television turned up to full volume from 6am onwards every morning. Nevertheless, I had at least got my first pay cheque so I went around HMV and bought a whole sack of DVDs. Last on the pile was The Jungle Book, the rationale being that I needed something that would cheer me up and for it to be something that I could unashamedly play loud to counter the crazy old guy downstairs.
I love The Jungle Book for three main reasons: it’s sweet and uplifting, it looks great and the songs are amazing. At heart, it is a movie about bravery, loyalty and friendship. This is presumably why Rudyard Kipling’s story1 was such an influence on the scouting movement. It is wonderfully paced, a largely slow-moving and serene story punctuated with bursts of frenetic madness. It looks utterly gorgeous with a predominant palette of browns and greens while the cell animation is a masterful example of the craft, you only have to look at the horrible CG renditions of the characters on the recent DVD cover above to see that the transition to computers has not always brought with it better drawing and characterisation.
And then those songs. Bare Necessities is guaranteed to cheer me up every time I hear it, followed closely by I Wanna Be Like You. These are songs that I know inside out and back to front: I often catch myself in the middle of singing them without knowing what prompted me to start. Meanwhile there are lesser songs that also work well in their context: Trust In Me, Kaa’s song to the hypnotised Mowgli; the song of the marching elephants; the barbershop quartet of vultures who look like the Beatles about four years early and of course the song that the girl from the village sings about having to fetch the water.
I shall finish here, I want to go and watch it again now!
You may have come to this post expecting a discussion of the book but I haven’t read it. I must do this one day.↩