One of my favorite bookish movie adaptations has to be the 1967 Russian animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book by Soyuz Multfilm. It’s certainly more faithful than the somewhat recent adaptation featuring Jason Lee that completely misses the point of The Jungle Book and instead features an Indian Tarzan in a story too dumb for adults and children. Is it OK to ask for your money back even if it’s a dollar rental special? But I digress. The Russian Jungle Book cartoon is more of an epic, by people who quite clearly really enjoyed the book.
My son refers to the Russian version alternately as his Jungle Book or “the one with pink gitch”. Wikipedia refers to it as the “heroic” version and while I like the “pink-gitch version” heroic certainly does do it justice. It’s fairly faithful to the first and second Jungle Books, highlighting tales from the youth of Mowgli, the tortured outsider, with two major changes, one of which is brilliant, the other just weird.
The first, making Shere Khan the big bad, is a no-brainer. Sure, Disney did this too but did they have Shere Khan follow Mowgli around until he was 17 where he’s finally defeated (off-screen) in bare-handed combat by having his head torn open? No they did not—but I would like to hear the jazzy number that would have accompanied that scene in the Disney version.
The second change, the just plain weird one, was making Bagheera female. Thanks for confusing my son Soyuz Multfilm. On the other hand, making Bagheera female did seem to deliver inspiration to the animators. Bagheera is one of the most interesting animated characters to watch on screen, with a knowing slink that explodes into action and then twists into retreat in time with every one of his, er, I mean her lines.
Speaking of lines, The Soyuz Multifilm Jungle Book is, of course, dubbed and features narration by none other than Charles Heston whose pained reading is a guilty pleasure of mine. As an added bonus he mispronounces Mowgli (think cow instead of flow) for the first half of the film. Classic.