The Jungle Book: Book vs Cartoon vs Live-Action

I was a little concerned when I found out Disney was remaking one of my favourite movies of all time, The Jungle Book. So, being the nerd that I am, I decided to compare the new live-action version to the classic...and of course decided to read the original book while I was at it.

Book (1894)

One thing I didn’t take into account when I decided to read the book: it was written in the 1800’s, which means there’s a whole lot of “thou” and “thee” being thrown around. It’s actually a bit pretentious, but I guess that was the vibe Kipling was going for? Another thing I didn’t realize: rather than being one full narrative, The Jungle Book is composed of short stories, poems, and interludes. Interestingly, the main plot for the movie adaptations is taken from the very first story (Mowgli being raised by wolves/threatened by Shere Khan) with a few other elements thrown in (Kaa and the monkeys appear in a later story, but King Louie doesn’t exist). 

There’s also a lot of casual racism and old-fashioned ideas so I’d take most of those stories with a grain of salt.

Cartoon (1967)

Let me start by saying that I love this movie TO DEATH. It’s my absolute favourite Disney movie, and in the past twenty-odd years of my life, I’ve watched it more times than I can count. It’s definitely the most kid-friendly when it comes to adaptations with the bright colours and the catchy songs, even though the final fight between Baloo and Shere Khan always upset me. This is mostly because Baloo is one of the greatest characters to ever exist, even if he’s not quite true to his literary origins (in the book, Baloo is a serious teacher of the Law of the Jungle, and probably wouldn’t be caught dead singing “The Bare Necessities”) and his apparent death has always distressed me

My only problem: that ending. Even as a child, I couldn’t understand why Mowgli would so willingly abandon his animal pals for a girl. I mean...is he even old enough to be interested in girls? Maybe he was just intrigued by the sight of another human, but since she’s a girl, it certainly gives his decision to re-join humanity a “romantic” aspect.

Live-Action (2016)

As far as I can tell, this most recent adaptation combines the classic cartoon with some elements of the original book (there’s a lot of talk about the Law of the Jungle). It’s still a good story, though a bit darker than I expected – both visually, and in terms of scariness (no matter how much you expect to see Shere Khan jump out at you, it’s still a surprise). While I enjoyed it, I had two big issues: why could some animals talk and others couldn’t? I was very disappointed with the way the elephants were portrayed (I looooove the elephants in the cartoon), and there didn’t seem to be any distinction between talkers and non-talkers.

My other problem was the voices – every time I saw Baloo, all I could think was Bill Murray. Same with King Louie and Christopher Walken (side note: why was Louie so massive?!!?). At the same time, Idris Elba has a voice like velvet thunder and should be allowed to narrate everything because gosh darn, he sounds lovely (while still giving off the air of menace you’d expect from an angry tiger).