The 1942 live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book offers up an entire menagerie of real-life jungle animals in its opening minutes. Before we meet any of the film’s main characters, we are treated to footage of predatory wolves, mischievous monkeys, lumbering elephants, leopards, bears, hyenas, jackals and a man-eating tiger. It reminded me of the terrific Disney True Life Adventure documentary series I watched when I was a kid.
The footage is a masterful way to open the story. Unfortunately, real-life bears, leopards and gazelle are notoriously temperamental when it comes to performing traditional movie duties like, say… delivering lines, hitting their marks and recounting their cocaine addictions to Mary Hart. So, after these few fun first minutes, the live animals all but disappear, and we spend the next ninety minutes with stuffed tigers, rubber snakes on strings, and an alligator who’s head completely separates from the rest of his body whenever his jaw opens for the camera. I choose to believe this particular alligator merely suffers from a herniated disc in its neck and just needs some good acupuncture. I’m still working on an excuse for the fact that I could hear its motor.
Still, considering it’s nearly seventy years old, The Jungle Book is a pretty ambitious film. The human actors, once they arrive, do a fairly good job at moving the story along. And even though most of the animals may be constructed from fiberglass and paint, they still demonstrate more charisma than my actual living cat does any day of the week.
Oh Z, what would become of you in the wild?