Adventure with Joseph Calleia and Sabu.
Director Zoltan Korda (1942, U) (S) (AD) 69413356"
Oh yes, I was looking forward to this Disney cartoon. The well-loved songs, the characterisations, that beautiful classic Disney animation...
However if you know your Jungle Book, then the above Radio Times listing should have left you in no doubt that this was in fact going to be the tale's much earlier live-action version by Alexander Korda Films:
Alas, I did not know my Jungle Book, so I duly taped it off Film4 completely assuming it to be the musical cartoon by Disney.
So, how long do you think it took me until the penny dropped? Really? Well, no, you're wrong, it took me much longer than even that. Start the clock.
So first I'm sitting there, and the credits are rolling, playing all that triumphant Roman music that we associate with old movies.
The screen was displaying the pages of a book being turned, with each page accordingly listing the names of who done what. They were even spelling colour in American. So far so good.
Then at 1 minute 38 seconds the action begins. The Technicolo
Man on horseback: "Ma'am Sahib refers to the storyteller?"
Storyteller: [POINTING AT ELEPHANTS] "Are these silent monsters at peace with us? It is but a truce they keep with man. But, I, who have seen the tusk stained red with blood, I could tell you a tale of this island once... for a few coppers? Yea, for a bowl of rice? [WOMAN TRIES TO PHOTOGRAPH HIM] What would you do with my image, Ma'am Sahib?"
Woman: "I would keep it, for a memory of India."
Storyteller: "Verily! You would have all India in your picture. Nay, you would have the Book of the Jungle to read in my eyes!"
Yep, stock Disney storyteller, check.
So, with actor Joseph Calleia's eyes blazing with awe, at 3:09 this guy duly begins to introduce us to each of the animals of the jungle, one by one, by narrating footage of them in the wild. For the next few minutes, the movie takes on the appearance of a true life short. There's a bear called Baloo, who I'm thinking later might just have something to impart to us about the bare necessities of life. There's a snake, who I'm expecting to want us to trusssst him. There's a tiger called Khan, whose name I'm vaguely hoping that someone will yell in angst while the overhead perspective spins up and away from them, but that's probably a joke for a more recent post-modern remake.
In fact I'm getting quite impressed at the way these characters are getting set-up here. Boy, when we get into their animated personas shortly, and it really can't be long now, we're gonna already be so clued-up on who each of these singers are.
In fact, the cartoon stuff is already creeping in, as some of this live-action animal-footage has been sneakily sweetened with animated creatures in the distance, such as a flock of birds!
But... we're now twelve minutes in and I'm still watching live-action villagers agonise as they realize that their toddler has just wandered off into the jungle. This is starting to feel like Bedknobs And Broomsticks, which a year ago I learnt actually only had one animated sequence, in the middle. Well, I don't want to go making that mistake again. But all the same, they're running out of running time here.
I'm now supposing that, as the little lost tyke grows older, or maybe just dozes off amongst the wolves in the jungle, he'll soon have a dream in which he perceives all the different creatures as talking to him, and singing…
Well, I suppose it was the eventual leap forward twelve years to Mowgli as a teenager - still with a live-action body (Sabu) and swinging around the jungle like Tarzan - that finally burst my bubble. (and boy can this kid jump!) Unless he was about to start having his own lengthy flashback within this lengthy flashback, then he was now just too darn old to have that charming snake curl up around him.
I looked at the clock. 17 minutes. There was no longer any avoiding the truth. It was time to decide. Do I commit to viewing the rest of this live-action movie that I had not intended to watch, or press rewind and get out my DVD of The Flight Of The Conchords instead?
I kept looking at the clock. For a good nother hour and half. This wasn't a good sign either, although I did stay with it to the end.
In fairness, most (not the evil tiger) of the animals in this did presently get to talk, although none with the expertise of feral child Mowgli. No songs, I concede, but the hissing snake puppet was pretty well spot-on with the Disney incarnation. We even moved into Dr Dolittle territory, as Mowgli goes over from barking to talking with the animals in English, and is still understood by them.
Later on however we segue more into The Gold Rush, as the principal villain and his two comic relief sidekicks start killing each other for the riches that wolf boy has found. Perhaps they should have started with whoever was sabotaging their performances with so much music.
Overall, I'm sorry to report that I found this slow and plodding. Much like Avatar, I just kept on wishing for it to end early without a resolution. The incredible thing was that, unlike Avatar, that's exactly what it eventually did! The situation is left open-ended, and with no sequel of this version ever made, I still conversely find that to be a bit of a shame.
For me though, its greatest moment has got to be the scene when Mahala is showing Mowgli all her father Buldeo's trophy animal heads/skins. That Mowgli keeps recognizing his old friends is partly comical, but also an effective indictment on the small-mindedness of game hunting.
If there were people who actually could talk to the natural world, then many of us might stop treating them quite so carelessly.
In summary, I found this to be a long film to watch, yet in my heart, I still really wanted it to be a lot more more drawn-out.
Available here. I think.