Thursday, 14 January 2010




Among the multiple Disney songs which celebrate Dionysian revelry, I wanna be like you is my distant favourite, outdoing for sheer richness and euphoria even such successful classics as Lion King’s Hakuna Matata. Music’s role of ‘intoxication and self-forgetfulness,’ in the words of Nietzsche, is fully demonstrated as all the characters are helplessly drawn into the hypnotic rhythm. The Nietzschean god of music is Dionysus, who is incarnated here in King Louie, and who ‘tames [men’s] opposition with whips of madness’ (Walter F. Otto). Baloo, whose in-groove cry is ‘Get mad, baby,’ finds this out to his expense. Like a shaman in a rain-dance amid the American Indians, or like a young girl swirling amid the bass-lines of a trance beat, Baloo forgets himself utterly and becomes no more than a pulse in the communal ecstasy. The power of the Dionysian representation is given emphasis by the Apollonian background which serves as its counterpoise – dusty ruins, bricks and statues from a civilisation now presumably extinct. Mowgli surrenders to Louie’s chaos on the literal plane, and civilisation itself crumbles before the anarchic apes on the symbolic one.

The core principle of Dionysian revelry is non-differentiation – in the common ecstasy of the group dance, we dissolve as conscious selves and become one, all and the same (by contrast, and for reference, Apollo stands for individualisation). The song brilliantly represents this by a game of mirrors – the identity of all the characters is blurred with that of all the others. Louie desires to be the double of Mowgli, who spends the song mirroring the apes and is thus their double, but Louie is also the parody of the French dynasty of Louis kings – a mirror and puppet of authority. Louie in turn has another double in the small ape who parodies and makes a fool of him, and Bagheera and Baloo make for a similar parody of each other as they represent the ‘serious’ and ‘comedic’ saviours of Mowgli (roles which are reversed as Bagheera unwittingly becomes a comic relief himself throughout his slapstick attempts at rescuing the child). Baloo tries to become an ape and becomes a double for King Louie, so that in his folly he surrenders to the figure he was trying to combat, and Louie finds a partner and equal in a figure which patently has nothing to do with him. The video makes this most explicit in a shot which shows us Louie’s apes dancing together – all self-similar, all dancing in mirroring couples. Mowgli later joins a chimp in one of these couples, effectively becoming a chimp – he has ‘become like you.’

Dionysos king was never offered greater reverence by Disney than in this song, where the fantastic, stamp-your-feet Jazz ballad is rendered through an inveigling and utterly fascinating song-about-singing (compare to Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple for a non-Disney iteration of the same song). By the end of the piece, all the characters say ‘I wanna be like you,’ but the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ have become completely blurred (in perfect Dionysian tradition), and all order and tradition are made to collapse. Even language, that inexhaustible and unexpendable background structure, caves in before the euphoric chaos, and the characters only speak by means of inarticulate sounds. Love of life, fear of death, joy and terror, ecstasy and climax, all of the infinite properties which belong to this eternal deity are so well expressed and so delightfully encapsulated in this amazing song, that I have no hesitation in assigning it my fourth place.

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