A classic book by Rudyard Kipling, the most well-known portion of which about a human baby (Mowgli) and raised by wolves (there are other stories in the original book). That part has been made into two different live action movies and a Disney animated cartoon. All the book is very good.

Far from being anything like the Disney version, the original stories about Mowgli are dark, steeped in a feeling of danger and conflict - very much in keeping, in fact, with what one would imagine a life in the wilds of the Indian jungle to be like.

I was afraid of the book when I was very young - I wouldn't read it all until I was in my teens. It just kept one on one's toes - one felt every gut-wrenching moment of constant, unrelenting peril that Mowgli's life was in from the day his parents were killed in the jungle.

To read through the stories and follow him grow up from a feeble, naked, toothless frogling into a man and a wolf, a master over animals, one who is feared and does not fear any longer, is just an amazing experience. A reaffirmation of our safety and superiority - a very Victorian moral.

Disney Animated Features
<< The Sword in the Stone | The Aristocats >>

Release Date: 18 October 1967

When this film was released, it had been almost four years since the last animated feature from Disney. The intervening time had seen a couple of important events for the company. Mary Poppins, possibly Disney's best and most successful live action (well, mostly) film ever, was released in 1964. But more significantly, Walt Disney himself had passed away, on 15 December 1966. This was the last film he personally oversaw.

Despite that sad note, the show must go on. And it did, and it has ever since, albeit with some bumps along the way.

The Jungle Book is based -- loosely -- on one of the stories in the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling. The story, at least in the film, focuses on the boy Mowgli, an orphan raised by wolves in the jungle. At the time of the story, Mowgli has grown old enough that he can no longer remain in the jungle. The fierce tiger, Shere Khan, has vowed to kill the "man cub" before he can grow into a dangerous full-grown man. The wise panther Bagheera and his free-spirit bear friend Baloo must convince Mowgli to return to the human village, while keeping him away from Shere Khan, King Louie the orangutan, and Kaa the hypnotic python.

The film is notable and memorable for several things. This was the first animated film to use the voices of several people famous outside of animation. First was Phil Harris, who lent his distinctive personality and voice to three Disney characters, of which Baloo was the first (Thomas O'Malley and Little John were the others). He was a famous singer, actor, and bandleader, who appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including Jack Benny's and his own.

Next is Sebastian Cabot, a distinguished film and television actor who lent his voice to Disney as Sir Ector in The Sword in the Stone, Bagheera in this film, and the Narrator in the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons.

King Louie of the Apes was voiced by none other than the scat-singing jazz musician and composer Louis Prima. His duet with Phil Harris, "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" is one of the most memorable moments in the film.

George Sanders, famous for portraying debonair villains and other unsavory characters, lent an air of nobility to Shere Khan, who otherwise would have been nothing but a forgettable, generic bad guy. OK, so maybe I'm overstating the case a bit. But a little more character development, along with Sanders' voice, would have made the evil tiger a truly memorable villain. By the way, Khan's singing voice was none other than that of Thurl Ravenscroft.

Sterling Holloway was already familiar to Disney audiences as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, and he lent his distinctive soft, high-pitched voice to the cunning snake Kaa in this film.

J. Pat O'Malley, although not the same as famous character actor Pat O'Malley, was nonetheless a well-known movie and TV actor when he was selected to voice Col. Hathi the Elephant.

This selection of well-known actors as voices -- two of whom were popular singers -- gave the animators plenty of personality to work with, even before drawing a single line. The vivid characterizations of Baloo and King Louie are due just as much to the talents of their voice actors as to the animators who drew them. Many of Disney's subsequent films have continued the tradition of using famous actors for just this reason.

The music used in this film was also a notable change for Disney. While the music in previous films had been very much in the Broadway or Tin Pan Alley style, this film incorporated jazz into the soundtrack. The inclusion of Harris and Prima in the film helped this along immensely, as did the songwriting talents of Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman ("I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)") and Terry Gilkyson ("The Bare Necessities").

The other songs in the film were all written by the frequent Disney songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, including "Col. Hathi's March (The Elephant Song)."

The Jungle Book was also the first Disney Animated Feature to have an animated TV series as a spin-off. Actually, it's had two (also a rare feat)! First was TaleSpin. When this series debuted, it inaugurated the Disney Afternoon along with the already-established cartoons DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, and Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears. TaleSpin took Baloo, Louie, and Shere Khan and placed them into the city of Cape Suzette, which was basically a 1940s adventure novel come to life. As in DuckTales, there are no humans in the world of TaleSpin; the various jungle animals take the place of humans in a recognizably human society. It's a very good cartoon, even if the continuity is entirely separate from that of the movie.

The second and more recent of the TV spin-offs was Jungle Cubs, a Muppet Babies-style prequel to the movie. That is, the characters from the movie (except Mowgli, of course) were regressed to children, with the plots claiming that they all knew each other way back when. This time, all the main animals from the movie showed up, including Shere Khan and Kaa. Oddly, only Shere Khan held any animosity toward the others at this young age. "Prince" Louie was good friends with Baloo (they both have a fun-loving nature, after all), and Kaa was just one of the group as well. But even Shere Khan was willing to join in their adventures from time to time.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Song ("The Bare Necessities", Terry Gilkyson).

Although perhaps not the best of the Disney Animated Features, The Jungle Book is certainly one of the most entertaining. It was also groundbreaking in its use of new ideas (i.e., use of popular actors and singers as voice talent and use of popular styles of music). Entertainment and innovation were always Walt Disney's strengths, which means this, his last film, serves as a wholly fitting epitaph.

Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.informatik.uni-frankfurt.de/~fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.


Update: 5 February 2003: Like Peter Pan before it, The Jungle Book has been graced with a theatrical sequel created by Disney's Television Animation division. Entitled The Jungle Book 2, the sequel is set just a few days after the end of the first movie, as Mowgli and Baloo discover they miss each other, and Shere Khan longs for revenge. John Goodman voices Baloo, and Haley Joel Osment voices Mowgli. The sequel premieres on Valentine's Day, 2003.

Table of Contents for Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
See also The Second Jungle Book.

Mowgli's Brothers
Where we first meet Mowgli and the others in that universe, and Bagheera buys Mowgli's life with that of a bull. Eleven years pass, and then the adventure continues, and Mowgli gets the better of Sher Khan again, using the red flower. At the end, he is sent back to the lands of man.
Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack
A short verse
Kaa's Hunting
Another short verse
Maxims of Baloo
Before Mowgli was sent back to the lands of man, Baloo was teaching him the Law of the Jungle. Most jungle creatures only learned the parts that applied directly to themselves, but Mowgli had to learn everything, including how to say "We be of one blood, ye and I" in all the languages of the jungle. Then he falls in with the Bandar-Log who are the people without a law (the swing dancing monkeys from the Disney movie). The Bandar-Log capture Mowgli, who is then rescued by Kaa, Bagheera and Baloo.
Road-Song of the Bandar-Log
Yet more verse
Tiger! Tiger!
Beginning just after the first story, Mowgli goes back to the man village. He is adopted by a woman who lost her own son to the jungle. He learns man's speech and customs. Mowgli is put to work herding cattle, and uses the herd to defeat Sher Khan. He is thrown out of the Man-Pack and returns to live in the jungle.
Mowgli's Song
Fairly long verse, retelling the victory of Mowgli over Sher Khan.
From here forward, the stories are no longer in the Mowgli universe.
The White Seal
The story of a white seal named Kotick, the son of one of the mightiest seals. He looks for a place for seals to live where there are no men.
Lukannon
Some verse relating to The White Seal.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
This is the story of a young and brave mongoose who defeats some badass cobras.
Darzee's Chant
Sung in honor of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
Toomai of the Elephants
Toomai is a boy who tends elephants, and has adventures with them. Then he has even bigger adventures with elephants in the wild.
Shiv and the Grasshopper
The song that Toomai's mother sang to the baby
Her Majesty's Servants
An army's horses, cattle and elephant stand around talking about war.
Parade Song of the Camp Animals
A bit for each of the animals in Her Majesty's Servants including elephants of the gun teams, gun bullocks, cavalry horses, screw-gun mules, commissariat camels and all the beasts together.

The jungle book

Written by a member of the 19th century British imperial elite, this series of short stories examines how the actions of humans affect the natural order among the animals. Almost every story has both animals and humans in it and Kipling describes their many and varied interactions. Many of the stories, though not all, are set in India. Although written towards the end of the 19th century, the stories are timeless, being predominantly about how the animal world behaves in the presence of humans, and how humans consistently corrupt the natural order through greed, fear and ignorance.

This encourages us, the readers, to think how our actions affect those around us. Most obviously, we are encouraged to think how we affect the animals in our lives. In Victorian England, that meant dogs and horses. Nowadays, perhaps, it means gerbils and hamsters and cats. By extension, Kipling suggests we also affect the lives of other people around us. To put a concrete example on it, when we, with the best will in the world, try to help a distressed animal, the effects often backfire and make life more difficult for that animal. One suspects that Kipling is writing about how we interact with our fellow humans; indicating that even though we act from the best of intentions, the results are what matter, and if by our well-intended actions, we end up causing pain and anguish, perhaps it would have been better not to have acted at all. Even though that may seem cruel, he seems to suggest, the kindest course of action might be to let nature take it's course.

Victorian chauvinism

Kipling is an odd combination. Part of the British establishment in India, he was educated among the elite military students of the day, but poor health prevented him from taking up a career in the Army. Kipling wrote these stories in the USA, in Vermont just a few years after the civil war there. He won the 1907 Nobel prize for literature, but declined all the honours Britain wanted to throw at him: the order of merit; the Poet Laureate and others. His only son was killed, in 1915, as a soldier in the 1914-18 war.

Some of Kipling's books, read in today's climate, appear imperialistic and racist, declaring the white man naturally superior to every other type of life. While such crass attitudes might detract from his other messages, I do not feel we should ignore Kipling just because of his Imperialistic viewpoint.

These stories were written towards the end of the 19th century, as Victorian Britain was at the peak of Imperial power, with India becoming subjugated to British rule, and shipping its wealth back to London's high society. The stories bring with them the natural sense of superiority which educated English men of that time took for granted. At the end of the 19th century, any other position would have appeared inconceivable to the white, educated Englanders who read the stories. Nevertheless, remember that Kipling had chosen to live abroad, not in the land of his birth; not in his fatherland, but in the upstart, and unstable, United States. The man was no automaton, thoughtlessly following the fashions of the day. The man was to win the first Nobel Prize for Literature ever awarded to an Englishman. The man wanted to make a point.

More than a boy scout code

There are few reviews or analyses around of Kipling's Jungle books. What reviews there are talk about the characterisation of the animals and the lessons they teach about loyalty, courage and friendship. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement took these ideals of jungle law and friendship, and built a whole code of conduct around them. I can see the attraction of that interpretation, but I do not read the stories that way.

You can look at the books at any level. At the most superficial level, the books are slightly anachronistic, but innocent portrayals of English superiority over the natives and humanity's superiority over animals and the rest of the world. At a slightly deeper level, the stories celebrate nature and how she is red in tooth and claw, sparing us few details of the the natural order of killing and eating, but giving us a natural history lesson from a first-hand observer of jungle life.

My own interpretation is that the books have deeper meanings still. Many amateur reviewers have puzzled about how the later stories fit with the early, wonderful adventures of Mowgli in the forest, raised by wolves and making friends with bears and panthers. The later stories tell us how an orphaned mongoose kills some cobras and describes a seal prophet persuading his flock to find nirvana and English cavalry horses exchanging notes with their Afghan equivalents.

Early Gaia apologist?

I see these later stories as early treatises on how man upsets the balance of nature by interfering with his environment. In the early stories about Mowgli, Kipling establishes the natural order. He sets out the laws of the jungle and shows why and how those rules grew up, with specific examples to spell them out. He also shows us briefly, what happens to creatures who transgress those rules. The later stories use these established rules to show us how man's increasing remoteness from jungle life makes it more and more difficult to follow the laws of the jungle, and leads us into conflict with life's natural laws.

In the early jungle stories about Mowgli and his friends, Kipling introduces us to the jungle and its laws. We meet many of the jungle animals, and Kipling gives them characters to suit their real-life characteristics. While this may appear anthropomorphic, it is not cloyingly so. The characters Kipling assigns to the various creatures reflect their styles of living and killing. The chief baddie in the Mowgli stories, Shere Khan, is a cowardly tiger with a lame foot. Shere Khan starts attacking men, in violation of one of Kipling's prime jungle laws, and so turns himself into an outcaste. Describing Shere Khan, Kipling does not go all mushy on us, pretending that tigers are over-sized cuddly pussy cats with pretty stripes; he celebrates their power and terror in all it's blood-soaked, bone-crushing glory. Everything in the jungle is afraid of the tiger. Only Hathi the wild elephant and Mowgli, the naturally-superior man-spirit, can face up to Shere Khan.

Deathmatch: Mowgli and Shere Khan

Mowgli, initially at least, is a baby, but a human baby. In Kipling's world, the mere fact of being human makes him naturally superior to the animals. Mowgli is raised by wolves but while still a boy, he forms a fast friendship with Bagheera, the panther. This is not a friendship of equals. Mowgli is the unquestioned leader. Bagheera and all the other animals pay tribute to his human nature by protecting him and doing his bidding, provided he remains sympathetic to the laws of the jungle. Bagheera is a full-grown, silky black panther in the prime of his life. He could kill Mowgli with a single, lazy swipe of a paw, but he cannot look Mowgli in the eye. Heck, even Shere Khan cannot hold 10-year-old Mowgli's gaze.

"Mowgli looked--stared, rather--as insolently as he knew how, and in a minute Shere Khan turned away uneasily. "Man-cub this, and Man-cub that," he rumbled, going on with his drink, "the cub is neither man nor cub, or he would have been afraid. Next season I shall have to beg his leave for a drink. Augrh!"

The way I see it, the stories about Mowgli are there to show the natural balance of nature, with the predators attacking and eating prey only when their bellies are empty and they have young to feed. Mowgli lives with wolves, bears and panthers, all predators at the top of the food chain. The stories describe a harsh society in which killing is a real present part of life.

For a predator, life depends on killing and eating its prey. In Kipling's jungle, however, there is a code to killing, and those who break the code are outcaste. Killing for mere sport is despised as pointless and wasteful. There is no killing at the depleted water hole when drought parches the forest, for that breaks the rule of the jungle. Kipling gives us Hathi the elephant, long-lived, wise and physically stronger than any other creature. Hathi is the guardian of the jungle law, remembering past droughts and floods and dictating to the other flesh-eaters how and where they may attack their prey.

When Shere Khan attacks a man for choice, and chases the baby Mowgli into the jungle, Kipling shows how the animals react to his kill.

"I killed for choice--not for food." The horrified whisper began again, and Hathi's watchful little white eye cocked itself in Shere Khan's direction. "For choice," Shere Khan drawled. "Now come I to drink and make me clean again. Is there any to forbid?"

No-one forbids, but we see from the reaction of the other animals that Shere Khan has broken three of the jungle's most sacred laws. First, you do not kill a man, (except to show a cub how to kill). Second you only kill for food; and third, when you do kill, you do not wash the blood and gore in a communal watering hole, making it unclean for other animals who want to drink.

Kipling tells us that even the biggest, most powerful predator has some responsibility to the other animals and the well-being of the community. My take on that is that humanity is the Shere Khan of the books and humanity has a responsibility to live by natural laws, as well as those which we might ourselves construct. Humanity is going wrong when it breaks the natural laws and Humanity will have to face the consequences of its actions.

Taking the analogy a step further, Mowgli becomes the spirit of mankind, noble, strong, in tune with both the human world and the animal world. It is a common technique among authors (Think of Brave new World, or Tarzan), to introduce a noble savage who sees modern society for what it really is, rather than how we like to think of ourselves. Authors can use this device to comment on the ills of society through a seemingly innocent channel.

Through a series of apparently simple tales, Kipling shows us how nature lives; how the animals live together and highlights how man's behaviour is different from that of the animals. To his Imperialist audience, with their prejudiced sense of superiority, that would ring true. Looking at it the same work through modern eyes, however, we can see that Kipling was setting out a warning that behaviour grossly in opposition to the laws of nature will bring harm on the perpetrator. Humanity, by killing for sport, burning the jungle and fighting over trivialities, will eventually reap the rewards of transgressing the natural law.

Not just the Mowgli stories

I think the later stories do form a natural integration with the early Mowgli stories, because in those later stories, Kipling takes the laws of the jungle as given, and show us how man's actions contravene those laws, and some of the effects of such behaviour. In my favourite story, Rikki-tikki-tavi, the mongoose is saved from death by a young English family. Rikki-tikki then kills Nag, the local black cobra, incidentally saving the life of their young daughter.

In their gratitude and ignorance, the English couple offer the animal all sorts of delicacies which, if eaten, would make him too slow to hunt other snakes. Fortunately, Rikki-tikki is too clever to fall victim to their temptation, and remains hungry and alert, true to jungle law. When the snake's mate, Nagaini, threatens the baby daughter by way of revenge, Rikki is clever and sharp enough to run into her nest and kill each of her eggs, bringing the last egg out preparing to bite the top off it in front of her. This brings Nagaini slithering away from the girl to rescue the last egg. He kills Nagaini deep in her own territory, and then bites the last egg. Only then does Rikki accept his reward from the grateful, but ignorant humans.

In another story, the fur seals are being slaughtered to oblivion by men in hunting boats, and a prophet-saviour emerges to bring them to sanctuary, out of the reach of man. The only men to appear directly in the story are two superstitious seal hunters who drive hundreds of young seals to the killing ground. That's barely even a metaphor. The whole message is that men are hunting animals to extinction against the laws of the jungle; against the balance of nature.

Far from reinforcing the White-men-are-always-right mentality, Kipling is questioning the behaviour of his fellow men at a time when few others had any thought or concern for the environment. The common view at the time was that natural resources were there for the taking and all but inexhaustable. If this interpretation stands, then The Jungle book has to be re-appraised as a brave and prescient piece of environmentalist work, rather than a shallow, yet endearing piece of childrens' writing. Perhaps it is no bad thing that the Boy Scouts movement took its core values from the book.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.