- Directed by the legendary Chuck Jones
- Narrator-Orson Welles
- Nagaina the Cobra, Wife of Nag / Teddy’s Mother / Darzee’s Wife-June Foray
- Father-Les Tremayne
- Teddy-Michael LeClair
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the Mongoose / Nag / Chuchundra-Shepard Menken
- Darzee the Tailorbird-Lennie Weinrib
A young mongoose protects a family from two murderous cobras in this animated adaption of the classic story.
I remember this short film from my elementary school youth. Those were the days. Every now and then there was a small selection of short films that would be wheeled out and put on for the class. I can still hear the beautiful sounds of the film projector if I just close my eyes. This was one of two from that limited selection that were among my favorites and I daresay among the favorites of the majority of my classmates.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is an exciting short courtesy of the legendary Chuck Jones. The man knew how to create family friendly animated material that could also be easily enjoyed by children and adults. Just look at his résumé. Look at his long list of animated shorts he was a part of over his story career. He worked at Warner Bros. Cartoons on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Shorts before moving on to MGM and making a new series of Tom and Jerry shorts as well as the television adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.
This was something a little different than them and the more comedic material he was known for. Though light in tone, it is still an exciting adventure story about a young mongoose who is washed out of its borough and taken in by an English family residing in India. It is based on a story from the 1894 anthology The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling about a valiant young Indian grey mongoose. I have never read it so what, if any, differences there are I cannot say. Heck, I had assumed for years The Jungle Book was just all about Mowgli and friends. Learning there was more was a shock.
The film is short and to the point with little fluff in it. With a combination of well-crafted narration and good dialogue the setting is quickly established with all the major characters put in their place. Though family friendly, there is a sense of danger once you learn of Nag and Nagaina and their plan to kill the boy and his parents in their sleep to retake the house and rule its garden unchallenged. Dark stuff presented in a way that will not give kids nightmares.
The stakes were high here in this story for the characters. It was not a fate of the world story but rather a fate of the world ALL the characters inhabited story. Young Rikki had a great burden upon him as he faced off against two more experienced foes. Films often forget how to do a story like this. You do not necessarily need the characters to save the world. You just need them to save the world they are in. This was a bit of coming-of-age tale for the mongoose.
The 70s and early 80s adventure cartoons had a certain sound and feel and look and this is definitely a product of its time. It has that stripped down style that was common then. But more importantly it does not talk down to its intended audience. It treats the viewer as an intelligent individual. It does not outright show anything in keeping with a family friendly vibe, but it certainly implies plenty of death and killing on the part of our hero and the villains.
Rikki is drawn very adorably and portrayed as a scamp, but this scamp can also become a ferocious killer in order to protect. He does not bonk the bad guys on the head and send them on their way. He kills them with murderous red eyes.
Rikki faces off against snakes in this film. There is a brown garden snake which basically sets up the finale with Nag and Nagaina. I found them to be some of the most intimidating villains of my youth. And they are still pretty disturbing animated villains today. To go off on a bit of a sidenote, Disney at points produced animated villains that were this threatening but they lost something over time and the villains are a bit more, for lack of a better term, safe.
I found my particular copy at a discount retailer many years ago in something called The Chuck Jones Collection. I am not sure if it is still available but as far as I know purchasing a physical copy is the only way you will see it. I am not aware of it streaming anywhere. Nearest I can tell there is no crappy free version available on YouTube either. Ugh!
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a well-drawn and well scripted animated short from my youth that is as good now as it was then. If you can find it most certainly watch it. It is something not to be missed.