I was in my thirties before I saw ‘The Jungle Book’, and perhaps I took my son to it. He was a restless cinema-goer, whereas I’ve always been gone the moment the moving pictures begin. Give me a glimpse of celluloid, and I’m putty. I can’t be doing with sweets and ice creams and especially not pop-corn, and even more than that, I can’t be doing with intermissions. I can watch the most fearful rubbish and be absorbed by it, which was hard when I was a radio station’s film reviewer. I had to slap myself about a bit after the closing credits and jot down some serious comments.
It was an afternoon show – always the ultimate luxury, seeing a film in the daylight, going in when the sun is shining, and emerging in the darkness, I think – and the audience was almost entirely under the age of ten. A scattering of mums and elder siblings were the only others. But pretty soon, they drifted away, as the film’s bright colours drew me in. It’s not even that I particularly like cartoons. It was just the usual disappearance of self. The film came on and took me in. I was the King of the Swingers, as you might say (great choice to use Louis Prima’s voice for that), and certainly as goggle-eyed as anyone sitting in the mick-plush seats.
If you haven’t seen ‘The Jungle Book’, you’re unlikely to do it now, so the fact that I am about to spoil part of the plot is neither here nor there. But if you have seen it, you will know that the jolliest figure in the film – the Falstaff to Mowgli’s Prince Hal, the Sam Weller to Mowgli’s Pickwick (that second analogy is a bit suspect) – is Ballou, possibly, Balloo the Bear, as in ‘The Bear Necessities’. Anyway, towards the end of the film, and by what means I cannot remember, Ballou or Balloo, or in fact Baloo, after a heroic defence of his little human chum, perishes. The nimble tread of the film is halted. Our bulging pal is reduced to a mound of dead flesh.
At this point, the normally aggravated and worldly-wise panther, Bagheera, delivers a sterling and uncharacteristic paneygric over the corpse, which goes along the lines of ‘Baloo was my friend’, and expands his encomium for several sentences. I sat in the audience of tinies with the tears strolling down my face, unbidden, automatic; there may even have been a couple of mini-hiccups. The tinies chewed their sweets impassively.
At this point, Baloo opens one eye, and says, ‘Don’t stop. This is really cracking me up.’ Ooops! Grown man caught emoting in front of an animation! Grown man in the grip of raw sentiment! Grown man stifling a sniffle!
And I’m like this with any onscreen tragedy. They say that film directors like to pluck at the sentimental strings of their viewers. Mine are easy to pluck. I am a taut as a banjo. If I wore mascara to the movies, I would come out blotched and streaked.
I have a heart of wet sponge.