Making the Grades
Recently my wife was reading a book to our children about a boy who was raised by a badger. I was enthralled (and often nauseated) as the author realistically described the living conditions and eating habits the boy had to endure until he was found by his father.
Mowgli (Jamie Williams) is a boy of similar fate. In the first Jungle Book, his father is killed by a tiger and Mowgli is taken in by a pack of wolves who raise and care for him. Time has passed and at the beginning of the Second Jungle Book, the wolves appear to be fine parents. Mowgli is cleaner than my children often are, his teeth are shiny white, and he is dressed with jungle modesty. For the first while, we get to watch Mowgli do a typical day as he grunts and growls with Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther. All the animals are real and without voices, making for a quiet script until he happens to crawl onto the train tracks.
Taking place in colonial India, Mowgli is a great find for the British aristocratic adventurers that make up most of the predictably oncoming train's passengers. Somehow running over the boy and leaving him unharmed, the train stops and some passengers try to capture Mowgli, but he escapes along with a trained monkey that belongs to an Indian named Chuchandra (David Paul Francis), a foolishly typecast character who plays a music box while his monkey dances and steals from the rich. Now the chase through the jungle is on, and slapstick violence ensues as the boy and his pursuers make wrong decisions only so the movie can reach a marginally acceptable length of 88 minutes.
It's unfortunate that a good story wasn't a priority to the producers of this film. Instead, the all too common slapstick violence of today's movies for children dominates the screen. Mowgli would have been much more interesting if we could have seen what a boy really would be like after a decade in the jungle.