Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Baía in Song: "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" and "Você Já Foi à Bahia?"

One of the most hypnotic sequences of song and animation in Disney's oeuvre is the song Baía from The Three Caballeros. José Carioca, the cigar-chomping Brazilian parrot, asks Donald if he has ever been to the state of Baía. When he answers in the negative, José creates a picture in song of the sleepy region and its capital Salvador. Though our host is clearly from Rio de Janeiro - the term "Carioca" refers to people from there - the romantic image he paints of Baía can create a longing in anyone's heart for languid South American cities of 70 years ago.

The Three Caballeros (1944) and Saludos Amigos (1942), the two films to come out of Walt Disney's goodwill tout of South America, were as much steeped in the popular music of their time as Make Mine Music and Melody Time. All four films dated from the period of Disney's wartime "package" films, which took the route of bundling together an anthology of shorts built around music. They were equal parts heir to Fantasia and the Silly Symphonies shorts. For the two Latin American films, the popular music hailed from Latin America.

The song that Disney turned into Baía was originally written in 1938 as Na Baixa do Sapateiro by Ary Barroso. Translating to English as "In the Shoemaker's Hollow," it tells the story of a humble shoemaker in Salvador who holds out the torch of unrequited love for a dark-haired young lady. The Portuguese lyrics are as follows:
Ai, amor ai, ai
Amor, bobagem que
a gente não explica ai, ai
Prova um bocadinho, oi
Fica envenenando, oi
E pro resto da vida é um tal de sofrer
Ô lará, ô lerê
Ô Bahia, iaiá
Bahia que não me sai do pensamento
Faço o meu lamento, oi
Na desesperança, oi
De encontrar nesse mundo
O amor que eu perdi na Bahia
Vou contar
Na Baixa do Sapateiro
Eu encontrei um dia
A morena mais frajola da Bahia
Pedi um beijo, não deu
Um abraço, sorriu
Pedi a mão, não quis dar
Bahia, terra de felicidade
Morena, ah morena
Eu ando louco de saudade
Meu Senhor do Bonfim
Arranje outra morena
Igualzinha prá mim
Ai Bahia, iaiá 
Ray Gilbert rewrote the song for Disney, altering the lyrics to...
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baiá
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you! 
Oh Baía, I live in the memory of many dreams ago
When the stars were bright and you were mine alone
My love for you cannot die, though the oceans run dry
Or heaven's call from the sky, now you’re gone! 
Baía, can’t you hear my lonely call?
Morena, make my life complete again!
How I pray for the day when I'll see your smile
And my heart will beat again! 
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baía
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you!
Oh Baía... 
The alteration served Barroso well. After its release, the song was intended to be used by Carmen Miranda for her film Banana da Terra, but the licencing fees demanded by Barroso proved prohibitive. Disney's deep pockets could easily afford it, and in its rewritten form has been played and covered countless times.

Ary Barroso's original recording of  Na Baixa do Sapateiro

José decides that the pair must see Baía, and launches into a rendition of Você Já Foi à Bahia? Unlike Na Baixa do SapateiroVocê Já Foi à Bahia? was a direct and accurate performance. The title translates to "Have You Ever Been to Baía?" and José's rendition switches freely between Portuguese and English. The original was written by Dorival Caymmi in 1941, being successful on its release and hitting international acclaim after being featured in The Three Caballeros.

Dorival Caymmi's recording of Você Já Foi à Bahia? 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Walt's Era - Part 2: Fits and Starts (1940-1942)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a smash success, redefining what animation could be in Hollywood. The film funding a brand new, custom built studio in Burbank, from which Disney artists could push their craft even further. The company, and the man for whom it was named, were on top of the world.

Disney, all smiles, at his new studio. Photo: Disney.
Disney's bread and butter was still the ongoing series of shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends. The Silly Symphonies upped their game, with a noticeable rise in quality between the early half of 1937 and into 1938 and 1939. Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Moth and the Flame, Farmyard Symphony, and The Ugly Duckling learned from the lessons of Snow White, as did the one-off short, Ferdinand the Bull (1938). The Ugly Duckling (1939) ended up being the final Silly Symphony. That testing ground for new processes ran its course. Now Disney's attention was turned to feature film.

In this period between 1940 and 1942, we find a Walt Disney Productions trying to find its footing, experimenting and exploring with what an animated film can be. Creatively, films like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi are triumphs (with The Reluctant Dragon sandwiched in there too). But these films also challenged Disney's credibility as a populist. Like any great artists, sometimes they innovated too far beyond the pale of what the audience was receptive to. It would take some time for them to settle on working formulas that allowed them to break new ground while responding to market forces. The raging war in Europe didn't help matters much, nor did the infamous animators strike that landed on Disney's doorstep on May 29, 1941. Disney was trying to figure itself out artistically and organizationally.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book - Part 3: "Tiger! Tiger!"

The original animated version of The Jungle Book ended with Mowgli's leaving the forest, lured to the man village by the beckoning eyes of a winsome girl. That coming-of-age story was subverted in the new live-action version, but both alike neglect to fill in what happened afterwards.

Kipling did, however, conclude his Mowgli chapters with the story of his life in the man village and his final confrontation with Shere Kahn. The aforementioned live-action version took bits and pieces of its story from across The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, and so Mowgli's faithful brother Gray and the buffalo stampede through the ravine were inspired by this chapter.

Historically, Mowgli was one of the inspirations behind Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, and we see that come to the forefront in this chapter. Both are ultimately inspired by Enkidu, the wild man of the 5000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh. In that most ancient of Babylonian writings, Enkidu represents untamed nature and the untrammeled spirit of man against the powers of civilization. He is brought to heel eventually, first by the temple prostitute Shamhat (the lure of the feminine, as exemplified by the girl in the animated Jungle Book) and then by combat with the warrior-king Gilgamesh. The wild man myth has endured through the millennia, sometimes as a cautionary tale about the need to suppress violent, natural urges, and morem often as a romantic vision of savage nobility. The wild man character is usually brought into confrontation with civilization, to varying effects. Tarzan had his run-in, and discovered that he operates best on the fringes of both the wild and the civilized worlds, not truly a part of either. Mowgli makes his own discovery as to his place in the world.

Indian Village. Photo: Wellcome Trust.

This encounter of the wild man with society allows the author of any given tale to divulge his or her own thoughts about society. In this chapter, Kipling satirizes the caste system and the self-importance of the village's wise old men and so-called great hunters.

Again, the complete book can be found at Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book - Part 2: Kaa's Hunting

An important character was rather absent from the life story of Mowgli found in the first chapter of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Where's the bear?

Baloo was barely present in the first chapter to vet the young man-cub, but fell away after that. His major part of the story comes in with the book's second chapter, a "midquel" to the first chapter. It is also prefaced with another song by another absentee character: Kaa the python. Obfuscated by the Disney animated version, each of the characters are examples of real Indian wildlife. Baloo, for instance, is a sloth bear. The former range of this insectivorous bear stretched across the entire subcontinent, though finds itself restricted from the edges and large parts of the south today. Kipling's name undoubtedly derives from the Hindi term for the sloth bear, bhālu. The author was, however, no naturalist. Certain of Baloo's habits, like eating honey and nuts, are more typical of the Asian black bear which is not found in India. The two species are not closely related.

A sloth bear. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Bagheera is a black Indian leopard, a regional subspecies of the same leopard that spans Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Typically leopards are yellow with black spots, but a recessive gene can give them an excess of melanin. Black leopards still have their spots, but are a beautiful black-on-black. Shere Khan is, of course, a Bengal tiger. Ironically, a male lion in Hindi is called a sher and a tiger is called a baagh or vyaghra. The Seoni District, where The Jungle Book is set, includes the Pench Tiger Reserve.

This chapter also provides the bulk of the plot for Disney's 1967 Jungle Book. Mowgli is abducted by the monkeys, who take him to an ancient abandoned city so they can make him their leader. Baloo, Bagheera, and Kaa run in for the rescue. In the original version, Baloo is actually the sterner disciplinarian, the Teacher of the Law, while Bagheera is the more lackadaisical and indulgent of the man-cub.

Without further ado, we now present the second chapter of The Jungle Book. Once more, the complete book can be found at Project Gutenberg.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

BBC's The Real Jungle Book Animals

The formal relationship between Disney and the BBC yielded the first of the theatrical nature documentaries released under the Disneynature imprint. Titled Earth, it was an abridgment of the BBC's stunning, award-winning series Planet Earth. Even without Disney's formal participation, the BBC has found a way to carry on a symbiotic relationship. Timed to coincide with the new "live-action" Jungle Book feature film, the BBC has repackaged their nature documentaries for home video as The Real Jungle Book Animals.

The eponymous documentary, advertised on the package as a journey into the heart of Rudyard Kipling's wild India, is actually the first episode of the 1997 series Land of the Tiger (and released as Wild India). This episode introduces the six-part series and focuses itself on the regions of Kanha National Park. This park and its denizens inspired Kipling's stories, as series host and Indian naturalist Valmik Thapar informs us. The trials of a mother tigress is the main plot, but time is taken to show the lives of sloth bears (on which Baloo is based), leopards (the black variety being Bagheera's inspiration), langur monkeys, dholes, jackals, and wolves, cobras, peacocks, elephants, and spotted deer. Not only does it show the ecology of these beautiful creatures, but the unique and reverent relationship Indian people have forged with them.

The act of repackaging an entirely different documentary as a The Real Jungle Book Animals is a bit of a bait-and-switch, but it's not an unpleasant one. It is still a fascinating episode. Given that Land of the Tiger has never been released in its entirety on digital home video platforms, they could have done well to put all six episodes on the disk. Its only home video release has been on VHS, and they clearly used the same masters for this copy.

For a faux-Kipling documentary, one might have hoped they would find another suitable bonus feature... Say, a biography of Kipling or some such thing. The BBC is, in fact, currently airing a documentary called Kipling's Indian Adventure, presumably to tie-in with the film. Not so with this release, unfortunately. The bonus is another documentary advertised as "Himalayas: Home of the Brown Bear" but which is, in fact, the "Tibet" episode of BBC's Wild China series.

While an odd choice for a disk entitled The Real Jungle Book Animals, this exploration of the Tibetan plateau, its wildlife, and the spirituality of the indomitable Tibetan people unintentionally fills in the background to Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest attraction. The disk ends up being a double-whammy of unofficial Disney documentaries. For those piqued by the new Jungle Book remake and the best ride at Animal Kingdom, The Real Jungle Book Animals is worth picking up at an affordable price.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Walt's Era - Part 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

We all know the story. Walt Disney cut his teeth on animation back in 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri, making extremely crude animations that modernized fairy tales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. With some extra cash, he was able to put together a short blending animation with live action in 1923, titled Alice's Wonderland, and went scouting around Hollywood. Partnering with his brother Roy, more of these "Alice" shorts were produced until the Walt Disney Studios were built at 2719 Hyperion Ave. in 1926. After the Alice shorts ran their course, Disney made a series of cartoons with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This contract lasted about a year and a half before the character was scooped from beneath him by Universal Studios, who technically were the rightful copyright holders. This setback forced Disney to start over again in 1928 with a new character co-created by longtime friend and coworker Ub Iwerks. That character went on to make his fortune.

The original Disney studio at 2719 Hyperion.
The first official Mickey cartoon, Steamboat Willie, was also Disney's first attempt at synchronized sound. The combination of a sassy but lovable everymouse with music and sound effects was a hit, and within a decade Disney went from simple black-and-white barnyard cartoons to Hollywood's first feature-length, full-colour, animated film.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book - Part 1: Mowgli's Brothers

Published in 1894 as a series of moralizing fairy tales for his daughter, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is a classic of adventure literature. For those of us raised on Disney's cartoon version - now re-adapted as an ostensibly live-action film, though that term has lost all meaning in the era of CGI - it can be surprising to learn that Mowgli's exploits comprise a relatively small amount of the book. In fact, it is drawn from only two chapters. Absent are the white fur seal Kotick, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose, and Akela the proud wolf whose name was officially lent to the leaders of Cub Scout packs.

Kipling, the great poet of the British Empire and jingoist of British Imperialism, was born and mostly raised in India. After his family moved back to England for a spell, he returned to India for employment as a newspaperman. It was during this time that he picked up material for his many books, including The Jungle Book, Kim, and Just-So Stories. His enthusiasms for the British Empire led to his insurmountable popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his being nearly forgotten in the late 20th century onwards.

Much like Mark Twain's capacity to capture the spirit of the American South fore and aft of the Civil War, Kipling spoke for the British Empire. And like Twain, Kipling was an expert at the turn of a phrase. They were alike wordsmiths with a sensitive understanding of their respective cultures and overlapping times. Unlike Twain, however, Kipling did not have the same biting satirical mind. As George Orwell said of him, "anyone who starts out with a pessimistic, reactionary view of life tends to be justified by events..." It is easy to sit back and criticize, even if that takes its emotional toll. Kipling, on the other hand,
was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists. He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition. In a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality. The ruling power is always faced with the question, 'In such and such circumstances, what would you do?', whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions... Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like. 
The Jungle Book, however, is not one of these great hymns to the British ruling class. Presented here is the first chapter (and a song) in which Mowgli appears. The second chapter will come in two weeks - just after the film premieres - but if you're particularly keen, the complete book can be found at Project Gutenberg