The Jungle Book is Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of the 1967 animated film of the same name. This, of course, is not a surprise due to the successes of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent. And with 2015’s live-action Cinderella being such a big hit, remaking the last film Walt Disney ever produced was inevitable.
You may not remember this (I certainly didn’t), but Disney already did a live-action remake for this movie in 1994. It borrowed stories from both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, and it was actually well-received by both audiences and critics. Yet many people still scolded the film for veering so far away from Kipling’s original stories, not that the animated film did a good job of this.
There was also an animated Jungle Book sequel made by DisneyToon (they make the majority of Disney’s direct-to-video movies) in 2003. I’ve never seen it, and I honestly don’t intend to anytime soon. For context, this is the studio that brought us Planes and Planes: Fire and Rescue.
Oh, and I guess I have to mention that the first Jungle Book movie ever came out in the 1940s, decades before Disney got to work on it. Also, an unrelated movie called Jungle Book: Origins will be coming out in 2017, and it’s being made by Andy Serkis and Warner Bros. We honestly don’t have time to get into that, but I will mention that it has a stellar cast.
Now, we have the first teaser trailer for Disney’s next retelling of The Jungle Book, and it provides a lot of information that will intrigue longtime fans of the story. Even if you’re not very interested in the Jungle Book franchise, I think you’ll still find something unique to latch onto as we learn more about this movie. It’s the first Disney remake I’ve come across that seems like it could bring something new to the original story.
Sure, Maleficent and Alice and Wonderland already tried this by extending their stories and putting more emphasis on the villains. And they’re not terrible movies or anything. My only issue with them, honestly, is that they feel like unnecessary accessories to an animated movie that’s already great.
But with The Jungle Book, we have a source material that has so much potential as a live-action movie with updated special effects. It will be a visual spectacle just to see these complex animal characters coming to life on the big screen. And since The Jungle Book hasn’t been retold thousands of times over the years (ahem, Cinderella), this new movie will hopefully feel fresh for many people who see it.
Here’s the trailer below, and I encourage you to watch it at least twice. Afterward, we’ll discuss.
OK, so to start things off, let’s talk about the cast.
Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man, is helming the film and will probably make a cameo at some point. Mowgli is being played by a newcomer named Neel Sethi, and like the original animated film, he’ll be raised by a family of wolves.
Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) will voice the alpha male, Akela. Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) will voice of the mother wolf, Raksha. And the panther, Bagheera, will be voiced by Ben Kingsley (pretty much every movie you’ve ever seen).
Bill Murray is voicing Baloo in this film (yes, that’s the song he’s whistling at the end), and Idris Elba is voicing Shere Khan. When I first heard that Scarlett Johansson would voice the seductively dangerous snake, Kaa, I was less than excited, but she kills it in this trailer as the narrator. And of course, Christopher Walken will be handling the voice of King Louie.
I was hoping that this new movie would borrow more from Kipling’s work, and I think this might be the case in some ways. Naturally, Disney is maintaining a lot of what made the original animated film so well-liked, but they seem to be adding some of the darker material that got cut from the original. Pirates of the Caribbean proved that Disney has room for darker and more epic movies, and I hope they apply that here.
So, how is this new film like the old one?
Kaa the snake will apparently be more of a villain who wants to eat Mowgli, at least at first. In the book, she actually saves Mowgli from the Bandar-log after he gets kidnapped, which could also happen here. Pretty much everything related to the Bandar-log and King Louie in this trailer looks more like the animated movie, instead of the book.
Baby Mowgli is found by Bagheera instead of the wolves, just like in the animated movie. And that last scene with Mowgli and Baloo floating down the river is clearly an homage to the 1967 film.
But something from the book that appears to be happening in this trailer is Mowgli stealing the “red flower” from the village. He runs across the bridge holding fire, as instructed by King Louie. This could mean that he’s going to fight Shere Khan with the red flower, which is straight out of Compton-er-the book. Toward the end of the trailer, you can see a glimpse of this fight.
It also looks like the film is adding something that neither the book or movie did, which is a fight between Bagheera, Shere Khan, and Baloo. I have absolutely no idea where this is going, so I’m excited to see it go down in the film. It’s the natural progression of the story when you think about it, at least before Mowgli gets his chance to face Shere Khan on his own. Or it could mean that he’s not fighting the tiger alone.
Finally, I want to point out that the look of many of these characters is coming from the book, which is a great thing. This includes Baloo, who is now a brown bear instead of the bluish grey bear from the movie. And Hathi, the old elephant, appears more like the domineering and wise character that the Kipling story portrays. He’s not supposed to be comic relief, like we see in the 1967 film, which I think they added because they already had so many know-it-all animals running around in the script.
Like I said before, the movie is so far coming off as darker and more epic than the animated film. That said, some people who’ve seen footage of the movie at D23 claim that it’s actually light-hearted, so this trailer might be a little misleading. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.
I don’t know how I feel about this film yet. On the one hand, it’s cool to see that they’re breaking away from the music numbers and treating the source material more seriously. But I’m worried this will take away what people loved about the classic film in the first place. I guess we’ll have to trust that Disney can surprise us once again with something that fits comfortably in the middle.
The Jungle Book opens in theaters, April 2016.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni