Man-day Post: Is the Jungle Book Racist?

In Man-day by Jensguy

It’s time for another installment of Man-day by Jensguy

Generally, when I see entrainment reporters trying to “bring the history,” I have to shake my head and bite my tongue.  However, in this case, I think I’m going to say something.

Yahoo entertainment reporter Amanda Bell writes an article talking about the upcoming live action remake of “The Jungle Book,” full of a-list stars, which is exciting because then they can remove all of the racism from the movie.


First of all, “The Jungle Book” doesn’t need a remake.  It is a classic and has aged extremely well.  Also the point of the movie (different from the book) is that almost all of the characters are ANIMALS!  Think about this for a moment, Scarlett Johansson is going to play Kaa the Snake with lots and lots of CGI.    Raise your hand if you want to see that.  For a studio that has been somewhat on a roll lately with the Marvel movies and Frozen, this seems like a potentially disastrous decision.

Trusssst in me, Jussssst in me. . .

Secondly, let’s address the accusations of racism.  The main example Bell brings out (and to be fair, she is cribbing from Syracuse University Professor, Robert Thompson) is the song “I Wanna Be Like You,” sung by the King of the Apes, King Louie.  Obviously, King Louie  (who’s language skills are much less refined than all of the other characters, according to Thompson) is a stand-in for the racist stereotypes of a black person not measuring up to the ideals of a Caucasian.

Except the real star of the show, Baloo the Bear, also speaks very informally, as voiced by comedian Phil Harris.  In fact there was a bit of controversy that Harris was even cast in the project as it was viewed unseemly to have somebody like that involved with the literature of Kipling.  Also, the snake Kaa was voiced with a very pronounced lisp in the wheezy manner of Sterling Holliway, who also voiced Winnie the Pooh.  In fact, of the characters with the most impcable British accents, the elephant, Colonel Hathi and the tiger, Shere Khan, one is portrayed as a bumbling idiot and the other a ruthless killer.  The vultures speak with a bit of Cockney as that role was stubbed out for the Beatles, until John Lennon nixed the idea.

Additionally, Disney wanted Louis Armstrong involved with the movie, because Armstrong was all kinds of awesome.  His music is in 205 movie soundtracks, and he regularly appeared in movies as himself during the time period.  However, sensing the coming idiocy of people like Thompson, they cast Italian-American Jazz Artist, Louis Prima, who wasn’t exactly chopped liver, for the role instead.

As far as the other charges of racism, Bell and Thompson bring out the “fact” that Mowgli not being able to live with Baloo smacks of segregation.  I guess you could take the less common view that children living with bears is kind of a bad idea, but that may get you ticketed by the PC police.  And that about sums the whole of their argument.

Look, there is enough strife and problems in the world without us going and inventing it out of nothing.  If you have a problem with a monkey wanting to become a man, perhaps you need to look less at racism and more at Darwin, which was at the heart of the joke for everyone not looking to be offended.  “The Jungle Book,” the last movie Walt Disney was personally involved with, was perfect in taking a classic of children’s literature, and lightening up the dark areas, which it held in plenty, and making kids happy.  It will be interesting to see if the new remake, which is due out next year, can remember to do that and tune out the clattering inanity of people like Bell and Thompson.

And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you

And to bring everything home, here is Louis Armstrong singing “Bare Necessities.”