It’s Earth Day on Friday, and I’m feeling old, older than dirt.
My melancholy started last weekend after seeing Disney’s remake of its 1967 animated classic, “The Jungle Book.”
I loved “The Jungle Book” as a kid and I was excited to see the high-tech, computer-animated remake. While I watched the film, I was giving it a thumbs-up for being beautiful to watch, for keeping the best songs, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” and for the delightful voice work of Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the panther and Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger.
And then came the ending.
“What?!” I said to my husband as the credits rolled. “He doesn’t return to the village? He stays in the jungle?”
The set-up for a “Jungle Book 2” was as plain as the cheap plastic 3D glasses on my face. Still, the final scene felt like a violation of what I thought was the story’s theme of human identity and finding one’s place in the world.
“Mowgli doesn’t go home to be with his people?” I said, continuing to press my point as we walked out of the theater. “That’s just wrong!”
The animated original, in case you’ve never seen it, has Mowgli leaving his animal friends and his free-wheeling jungle life to join human society, lured by the prospect of getting to know the pretty girl he spots collecting water at the local watering hole. It’s what made the original “The Jungle Book” so bittersweet. The orphaned Mowgli has terrific friends and surrogate parents in Bagheera and Baloo, but he’s not meant to hang out in Jungleland. He needs to transition to the Village, to his peers, to be fully human and fully himself.
In the remake, there’s no girl, there’s no watering hole and there’s no return to a human encampment that, in an earlier scene, was portrayed as a menacing place of men who drank and cackled before an enormous bonfire.
In the 1967 “Jungle Book,” village = maturity. In the 2016 version, village = barely contained destructiveness.
My teenage niece, who had seen the new “Jungle Book” too, thought the revised ending that had Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera chillin’ together in a tree was an improvement.
“I liked this ending better than the original one,” she said. “Because Mowgli gets to stay in the jungle.”
“Why would that be a good thing?” I asked. I turned to my sister, seeking backup.
She did not hesitate.
“Who’d want to live with mankind?” she replied. “Human beings hunt other species to the point of extinction, they pollute, they take more than their fair share. I’d want to stay in the jungle, too.”
Why did I feel so upset?
I’m upset because I feel so far from the Jungle, with its promise of magic, adventure and personal freedom. My reaction, compared to that of my niece and sister and, frankly, everyone else I’ve talked to about “The Jungle Book,” reveals just how far I’ve come from the little girl who identified with a fictional little boy who could talk to the animals, climb trees all day and eat papaya.
Unrealistic, I huff, as I sit at a cubicle in the Village for eight hours a day, starting at a computer screen and eating leftover Buffalo chicken wings.
Those scenes of Mowgli standing in the middle of a monsoon, conversing with the wolf pack? I wasn’t thinking “magic,” I was thinking, “Isn’t he getting cold?” Give me a Burberry trench coat and an umbrella, please.
I’m a full-fledged member and defender of the Village, and it makes me feel old. It also feels lonely, on this eve of Earth Day, to be siding with the species that brought you Love Canal and the Bhopal gas disaster in Mowgli’s homeland of India, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and, in China right now, a floating pile of garbage that is so big, it’s threatening to jam the locks of the Three Gorges Dam.
Yes, I’m a member of a deeply flawed tribe. Why would Louie the giant ape sing of wanting to be like us? Who would have us? We’re a homely and awkward bunch.
But you’re my kind of homely. Because I can’t talk to animals and I don’t have a black panther for a friend. In fact, all that wisdom and support Bagheera gives to Mowgli is the type of thing us Villagers sometimes do for one another when we’re at the top of our game. As flawed and boring as y’all are, I don’t want to be free of the need for you.
Here in the Village is where we humans can work our best magic.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter @lima_eddings.
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