Oct 21, 2012

Making a Man of Mimi: Gay Jungle Boys

For every Sabu, Jonny Quest, Alix, or Maya that pairs a "savage" subaltern with a "civilized" white boy or Sabaka that pairs Indians with each other, there are a dozen Mowglis: adaptions of the 1894 Rudyard Kipling classic about a boy raised in the Indian bush who abandons his same-sex chums in search of heterosexual destiny.  During the 1990s, they appeared over and over again, forcing upon gay children and teenagers the heterosexist myth that their story, like all stories, must end with a boy-girl kiss.

The Jungle Book (1994) begins with the infant Mowgli fully involved in a heterosexual romance with the infant Kitty, who gives him a bracelet as a symbol of their troth.  After a period of anarchic buddy-bonding in the jungle, the now-teenage Mowgli (28-year old Brandon Scott Lee) is “restored” to heterosexuality through an encounter with his lost love (19-year old Lena Headley).  She is now dating the slimy, effete, and ultimately murderous Captain Boone (Cary Elwes), so most of the movie consists of a romantic triangle rather than junble adventure.

In Jungle Boy (1996), Krishna (Asif Mohammed Seth) seems closer to Tarzan than Mowgli. Muscular rather than underfed and cute, he swings on vines through the Indian jungles and interacts with a sort of drag-queen guardian angel named Deva (“God” in Hindi).  True to form, he encounters Anna (18-year old Lea Moreno Young), niece of a visiting anthropologist, as she lounges around on her terrace in a San Diego Athletic Department t-shirt.  She feeds him ice cream, dresses him, and teaches him English before being kidnapped by the evil Sultan.  After two or three rescues, Krishna decides to return to his job as Guardian of the Jungle (and a promised sequel) , but not before a kiss.  And the music swells: he is a man.

Fred Savage, who narrates The Jungle Book – Mowgli’s Story (1998), tells us that this is the story of “how a boy became a man-cub, and how that man-cub became a man.”  Mowgli (Brando Baker) becomes a man by, first, investigating an abandoned house, like Tarzan did in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original story.  He stares at a sepia-tinted picture of a girl, and the music swells.  Later, he encounters some Indian children playing.  He kicks their soccer ball across the field, and the boys run off, but the girl remains, smiling at him.  He smiles back. And the music swells again.  He is a man.

In Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), as in its precursor, Un indien dans la ville (1994), wildboy Mimi (13-year old Sam Huntington) travels from Amazonia to New York dressed only in a loincloth (the Brasilia Gap does not sell t-shirts, evidently).  His long blond hair, pretty face, and soft body only barely beginning to tighten certainly code him as feminine, as does his gender-bending name, but he transforms into heterosexual adolescence upon meeting Karen (14-year old LeeLee Sobieski):

Karen’s Dad: You’re putting the moves on my twelve-year old daughter!
Karen: That’s not true!  I was putting the moves on him!

Leonard Maltin calls it “love of the puppy variety,” but there is an extended kiss (while the music swells), a shot of the two asleep in a hammock, a tearful goodbye when Mimi returns to Amazonia, and then, when the whole cast decides to join him, a a joyous reunion, while everyone else stands around grinning (and the music swells again).  Clearly it is heterosexual congress  that made a man of Mimi.