2016’s live action adaptation of The Jungle Book has been widely regarded as Disney’s biggest success yet in their new fixation of rebirthing their classic tales. A financial juggernaut just missing out on a $1 billion gross, Jon Favreau’s version of Mowgli’s story was almost universally loved by critics and fans from around the globe. Indeed, many went as far to say it was a genuine improvement over the 1967 animation.
The original Jungle Book is my all time favourite Disney movie. From a young age I have always loved the adventures of Bagheera, Baloo and all the iconic songs and characters met along the way. While I was never expecting it to exceed any expectations – or that rose tint of nostalgia – I was mostly very impressed with what we got in theaters last year. There are however several areas I feel could have been improved on, and indeed brought the film down a few branches of the quality tree.
This very special article is part of a collaboration work with Amy at Scariels Grotto, who has been posting great pieces all week about my beloved Jungle Book. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out her take on the live action adaptation and what she believes were done well.
This is a very conflicted area for me, one filled with wonderful decisions and others not so much. While I have given high appraisal to performances from Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley, bringing the new and familiar to Shere Khan and Bagheera respectfully, every stellar casting call for the major Jungle Book characters seems to have been balanced with one that just didn’t work out.
Baloo was always going to be a difficult character to cast, he’s the undisputed heart of the movie. Everyone from young and old can recite at least the chorus of Bare Necessities and huggable, laid back attitude makes him one of the most likeable characters the Mouse has ever put to screen. Perhaps it is because I just personally find Bill Murray to be an overrated actor, but syncing his voice with Baloo just didn’t work for me. Too many times it just didn’t feel like the bear we know and love – and while yes this was a intended to be an alternative version from Phil Harris’ iconic role – I never got this problem when other rewritten characters like the mentioned Shere Khan was on screen. This may sound bizarre at first but the more I think about it the more I like it; I would have given the voice of Baloo to acting legend and Disney regular Tom Hanks. Give it some time to think over, taking into account this newer version of the character in the live action flick, and I think it was missed golden opportunity to further cement Mr. Hanks into the record books.
Perhaps the biggest reason these live action remakes of Disney classics are seen with so much controversy within the Disney fan community is that of what gets cut from the original story and what is changed altogether. I know of many fans of Sleeping Beauty, for example, who hated 2014’s Maleficent for the drastic twists and turns the film made on their favourite fairytale. While these films should be approached with the mindset that not everything will be exactly the same as what we saw originally (otherwise there would be no point in making the film to begin with), I think these adaptations should be seen as an opportunity to expand on where the animated classic missed out. Two perfect examples of this is Ken Branagh’s Cinderella and the still playing Beauty and the Beast. Learning from the reception of Maleficent, these films took their source material and looked to add depth to the characters, setting and backstory of the plot rather than mixing things up and it worked a treat.
The Jungle Book I feel was almost a hybrid of these approaches. While there’s no denying this is the famous story of the man-cub raised by wolves who befriends a bear, notable changes – specifically to characters – were made that I feel just didn’t work.
Once again we’re going back to Papa Bear again with Baloo, my biggest problem with the entire movie. If you were to ask anyone familiar with the ’67 film to describe our giant sidekick character, you’re going to be told of a relaxed, easy-going bear with a love of life but not the fastlane. While there are definitely similarities to this in the live action, Baloo was far too scheming and manipulative to be even seen as a likeable character; let alone Mowgli’s new best friend. Though he enjoys to nap, a lot, we’ve gone from a “shiftless, stupid jungle bum” to a crafty, kind of arrogant character with a peculiar passion for honey. I guess he’s looking to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Winnie.
Another area I feel a lot more effort could have been put into is that of the monkey kingdom, and King Louie himself. While I’m still a little confused why we had to make Christopher Walken a prehistoric King Kong wannabe, that blend of partying mob boss was completely missed here which could have made for something very special. How I see it, King Louie in the original classic is an interesting villain. He’ll dance with you, joke around with you, offer you a banana or three, but if you cross him or don’t have what he wants, things turn ugly. Louie is the type of character you feel nervous in the presence of, wondering if you’re on his good side or not constantly. This is the direction I feel they should have taken with him in 2016’s Jungle Book, it could have added a lot of depth to the original rendition of the monkey and really given an uneasy, fun but little bit scary chapter to the story; as oppose to the monster movie rip-off we got. King Louie’s presence in the entire narrative could have been worked on a lot too, even a throwaway line mentioning his unpredictability or how powerful his kingdom is would have sufficed for me.
There’s no doubt for me Favreau’s Jungle Book is a great movie. It has good music, it has charm and it has some fantastic moments which stand on their own as future classic moments. While it made not be my favourite of Disney’s live action adaptation roster, or even my second, I was certainly satisfied – mostly – as a die-hard fan of the original. This sequel that is in the works however, that I am cautiously curious about…
A big thank you to Amy at Scariels Grotto for approaching me with this collab idea and for such a beloved topic to me that The Jungle Book is. Be sure you check our her website for some great content, interesting facts and fun opinions every week on your favourite Disney movies!