Retro Rewatch: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

This is the story of the great war that Rikki-Tikki-Tavi fought single-handed, through the bath-rooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment. Darzee, the tailor-bird, helped him, and Chuchundra, the musk-rat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always creeps round by the wall, gave him advice; but Rikki-Tikki did the real fighting.

So opens the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (the ivory-fanged, the hunter with eyeballs aflame), the eponymous protagonist of a story from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books.  His is the story of a brave mongoose and his bid to protect his young master (and the master’s family) from the cobras that plan to make their home in the garden…but not before doing away with the family whose home the garden surrounds.

I watched Rikki-Tikki-Tavi as a little kid, on a videocassette.  I loved it then, and even loved it as a teenager when I showed it in a daycare classroom on a rainy day.  What a great, if not slightly scary, story.  But of course, It has been nineteen years since I saw it last, and I’ve wondered at points on and off since I found YouTube if I would still enjoy it.  I would see the trailer on occasion floating around on home video preview trailers by Family Home Entertainment.  I saw it again last week while writing my Family Home Entertainment article.

Upload via ThePreviewsGuy VHSOpenings (I cued it to where the trailer starts)

Coincidentally, it was a Family Home Entertainment print where I saw it many years ago (and again as a teenager working in a daycare), and I saw the The Velveteen Rabbit as a kid as well.

Probably a sign that I need to see both again.  Why don’t we start with the story of the brave Mongoose whose name I used to think was pronounced “Reeky-Teeky-Tavi”?

But first…

Synopsis!

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a 1975 animated special, animated by Chuck Jones Enterprises, and based on the story of the same name from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books.  With narration by Orson Welles, the story is about a British family – Mother, Father, and son Teddy, who find a mongoose living on their estate, seemingly washed up from a river.  Father takes the mongoose into the home to dry and warm the little guy up, who in turn springs into delightful action.

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The family decides to keep him as a pet, despite some hesitation by Mother about the safety of their son (especially since the little creature sleeps with Teddy).  But Rikki-Tikki shows his value almost immediately, when he kills the cobra, Nag.  Not content to rest on the laurels of protection from just one cobra, Rikki plans to protect the garden from Nagaina, Nag’s wife, who has laid eggs.

With a dart, a dash, and a clickety chatter of his teeth and whiskers, Rikki surveils the garden.  But it is at a moment he isn’t minding the family that Nagaina finds her way into the family.  She threatens promises of sinking her fangs into Teddy – and his parents – to avenge the death of Nag and have the estate’s garden for her very own.

But it is Rikki – brave Rikki! – who bargains the life of a single egg for that of the family he swears to protect.  While distracted by a bird’s singing, Rikki destroys Nagaina’s eggs, and follows Nagaina to her underground nest.  And just when you think the worst has happened to the brave mongoose – this is a children’s story after all – Rikki emerges victorious, his speed and bravery have saves the day, and the family.

It is then that Rikki dedicates his life to protecting the garden, where no cobra dares to enter.

The Cartoon

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An animated version aired on television in 1975, the work of legendary animator Chuck Jones.  The animation style is signature Chuck Jones, and if you’ve seen his work on various Looney Tunes shorts, the Cricket short films (not the talking doll), and any of his contributions to Dr. Seuss animated specials of the time, then you know the animation style, not to mention the voice talent.

The special was one of three Kipling stories to get the Jones animated treatment – Mowlgi’s Brothers and The White Seal were the first two stories.  This era of Jones’s career came after his years at Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and done at his own studio, Chuck Jones Enterprises.

My Take

As I said, I saw  Rikki-Tikki-Tavis as a kid.  I loved it then, I enjoyed it as a teenager, and well, as a big kid, I adore it.  It is as good – and at points, as scary – as I remember it!  The cobras, Nag and Nagaina, and their demise at the fast wits of Rikki-Tikki could have easily been the most unsettling animation, aside from the glowing red eyes of Rikki when he goes after the cobras.  That other scene where the snakes says “I am death” freaked me out a little – I forgot about that third, much smaller snake completely!

However, the violence (especially against Nag and Nagaina) is left off-screen and to the imagination, using the sound and music as a guide.

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I love the animation, but I’m partial to the Dr. Seuss specials of the time.  And the narration of Orson Welles feels as good as that of Boris Karloff in How The Grinch Stole Christmas – smooth and entertaining.  The narration doesn’t detract from the story.

There is some re-used shots of Rikki in action, especially when he is winding himself around the chair. The same clip is used twice, and while you’d think that would take away from what makes this cartoon work…it doesn’t.  The clip is used well, and I understand there is a savings if the same clip is repurposed.

The animation style is so good for the 1970s, that the animals look amazing – Rikki is super adorable, but vicious looking when he needs to be (I go back to the red eyes), and the cobras – those cobras! – are so scary!

Chuck Jones always had great-looking animals, it was people that looked strange.  I forgot how every person in one of these cartoons looks like a castoff from Whoville.  But the animals are amazing – this was around the time where Jones worked to make his animal characters look more realistic.

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Pure brilliance.

In all, what startled me as a kid – the cobras, their voices, Rikki’s red eyes – all still have that same impact.  This is a great movie, and if you haven’t already seen it (or haven’t seen it in a long time), watch it!

Availability

When I was looking for a print of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, I assumed I was going to find the FHE print I knew growing up.  However, it wasn’t on YouTube.  The preview is, but even that is only within a set of previews.  But on archive.org, there is a cool print that has the Xerox Films logo before the movie, and plenty of indications that this movie was on film and not videocassette.

I love that – I expected to find the format I saw it on originally, and got something far cooler!  Of course, I can’t find any information about Xerox Films, other than it is from the 1970s.

Oh well.  Still a cool find!

Of course, if you like physical media, or a clean digital copy, Amazon has the movie for rental, as well as DVD copies with the other two Jones animated Kipling stories.  But if you really want to see something special (and who doesn’t?), watch the version on archive.org (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi – Xerox Films print).

I would like to aim to do more of these retro rewatch type articles – find something I haven’t seen in years, and just talk about it.  Not a recap, just a synopsis and a quick take.  This could either be alot of fun…or totally painful, depending on the find.

I already have something picked out, and I’m going to rack my brain to find some stuff I haven’t seen in years.

Thank goodness for YouTube!

Have a great day!

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. We’ve been doing a lot of clearing and tidying at our home during the shelter-in-place, and my VHS copy of “Rikki Tikki Tavi” emerged from one of the boxes. We don’t have a functioning player, but I decided to hold onto it just the same (I know, it doesn’t make that much sense). I love this story.

    “Who has delivered us, who?
    Tell me his nest and his name!
    Rikki, the valiant and true;
    Tikki, with eyeballs of flame!”

    Liked by 1 person

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