Found-Again Friday: The Animated Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

When I was a very small child, four things terrified me:

  • Heights;
  • That Looney Tunes cartoon where Tweety gets into the Jekyll-and-Hyde potion;
  • My great-aunt Ruth’s lamp, which looked a bit like this one (or indeed, just about any result you get from Googling “Deco panther lamp”; who knew those things were so ubiquitous?);
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which was so obviously calculated to scare the bejesus out of children that it turned up on TV every October despite not actually being a Halloween story.

Why Found-Again? I have no idea why I picked up the DVD as an adult, but it may have been some combination of a low price and the desire to finally see the show while not peeking out from beneath a blanket in sheer dread.I’m a grownup now, right? (Discounting the Highlander posts, anyway.)

(In fairness, I wore less eyeliner as a toddler.)
Historical reenactment of my first seven viewings.

The Premise: Doughty mongoose Rikki is adopted by a very British family living in India and defends them from the scariest damn snakes this side of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the assistance of a pair of birds and a timid muskrat.

Over the years, I’d never realized that Chuck Jones animated Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and it was surprising to see how cute Rikki is, the occasional red eyes of mongoose bloodlust notwithstanding. The snakes, especially the main cobra villains Nag and Nagaina, are suitably sinister-looking, but aaaagghh those voices; when we first hear Nag speak, I may not have hidden under the blanket this time, but I did make a noise usually reserved for stepping on hairballs with my bare feet.

When the snakes aren’t talking, Orson Welles’ narration keeps things going, lending so much gravitas to the story that sometimes animation effects like Rikki’s super-swishing tail seem out of place. (The scene of Rikki destroying snake eggs by trampling them to death—shown only as shadows— also keeps things somber.) The cartoon ends in a chase scene that had me glued to the screen even after all this time, rooting for what has to be one of the bite-iest heroes in all of fiction.

The Verdict: Everything about this was better than I remembered except the musical numbers; stick to sidekicking, Mr. Bird.

Might Go Well With: Chicken tikka masala, strong tea; definitely not eggs.


Next time: We find out who my least favorite minor character in Highlander is, among other things.

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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