watched January 8, 2012
There have been pitiful, passive and uninteresting main characters in the Disney films thus far, but this was the first time I actually felt kind of annoyed with one. To be fair, Mowgli is a lonely orphan, literally raised by wolves, and then told he has to leave. So I suppose he has some reason to sulk. But I found his whining and moping quite tiresome. Perhaps I was just in an unsympathetic mood. (Note that he is also not wearing pants, just a red diaper thing. I see a theme emerging here.)
The real star of The Jungle Book, in my opinion, is actually Mowgli's big bear friend, Baloo. His larger-than-life personality seems to outweigh even his hefty physical presence. He reminds us of those people we know who live life to the fullest. We are all drawn to people like Baloo; we can't help but be charmed by their easy-going and warm nature. (If I had to guess, Baloo's Myers-Briggs personality type would probably be ENFP, the exact opposite of mine, hah.) For Mowgli, Baloo's friendship is the only thing that seems to bring cheer to his otherwise self-pitying state of mind.
Furthermore, Baloo's "Bare Necessities" mantra is irresistible. The film's most famous song preaches that one must "forget about your worries and your strife" and enjoy life as it is. (It's the pre-Lion King "Hakuna Matata," basically, complete with a sampling of the insects under the rocks.) As I find myself humming the catchy tune, I can't help but start to think, yeah, life should be simple. Why shouldn't I just forget about my worries and live life at ease? Wouldn't that solve all my problems?
But the façade shatters abruptly when Bagheera, the wise panther, informs Baloo that Mowgli needs to go to the 'man village.' If he stayed in the jungle, he would be much more vulnerable to the man-hating tiger, Shere Khan. Baloo realizes that he can no longer let Mowgli live with him as a bear, and he must tell him the hard truth. Suddenly, life is not so simple; there is pain and sadness. The desire to just be happy and content conflicts with the reality that danger and hatred lurk in the jungle's shadows.
While Mowgli reacts to this truth by running, moping and whining, Baloo is surprisingly brave and honest. He pursues Mowgli and protects him from harm, even coming close to death. Baloo's relationship with the 'man-cub' Mowgli provides the audience a glimpse into the tension in which we all live. There is value in approaching life like Baloo -- not becoming overburdened by things over which we have no control. However, it's naïve to think that no bad thing can touch us, that we are immune to the reality of evil and pain.
Baloo may not have been completely transformed by the time we see him dance off into the sunset at the close of the film, but he has experienced a significant moment of growth. He hasn't lost his joie de vivre, but he now knows what it is like to live in the tension.