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How the story of The Jungle Book has been retold and evolved

Posted on June 14th, 2018

The version of The Jungle Book that most people know is the 1967 Disney classic, which brought some great characters to life through enchanting animation and some of the most well-known songs in movie history. However, The Jungle Book stories were around a long time before the release of that seminal film and we seem to have never grown bored of the numerous retellings and reworkings that have appeared ever since.

The main themes of The Jungle Book have inspired many other films, books and games creating a mini genre all of its own. Now, with the upcoming release of Andy Serkis’s Mowgli, here is a look at how this classic has evolved over the years.


The Jungle Book appears

Originally, The Jungle Book was a collection of stories from celebrated author Rudyard Kipling set in the forests of India centering on a number of different animals, including some where they interact with a boy or man-cub called Mowgli, who has been abandoned and raised by wolves in the jungle.

The major themes of abandonment, fostering, and law and freedom may seem fairly heavy for most viewers who know the story mainly from the 1967 animated film. However, Serkis has promised to re-explore this darker side of The Jungle Book in his upcoming adaptation.


Classic family film

Though there was a live action version in 1942, the most celebrated adaptation of The Jungle Book came in the aforementioned 1967 Disney telling of the story. Here, Mowgli is befriended by Baloo the bear and deals with a number of confrontations with other jungle animals who all want the man-cub for their own ends.

Classic songs such as The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You have helped keep the film fondly in the memory of everyone who has seen it and have also meant that it is remembered more of a family comedy adventure than anything else.


Other adaptations

Perhaps due to the incredible popularity of the Disney classic, further remakes didn’t appear until the 1990s though films including storylines of feral children have always been popular, possibly helped by the similar enduring Tarzan story.

Two separate live action versions appeared in 1994 and 1998 without much acclaim. The 1994 version attempted to tell its own story by setting the film 20 years later, portraying Mowgli as a young man interacting with animals who didn’t speak. The 1998 version was a straight-to-video film using the same characters as before.

A sequel to the original Disney film was released in 2003, but The Jungle Book 2 was criticized for the quality of the animation and also for the familiar storylines. The characters themselves had not evolved from the 1967 version, and even a relatively stellar cast could not save the production.


Popular culture

With such classic themes and familiar songs coming from the Disney version especially, it is not surprising that The Jungle Book is well loved and has influenced a number of areas of popular culture.

Graphic novels have revisited the main story of an abandoned child in the forests of India, and there have also been cartoon TV shows based on the Kipling stories. The popular tale has also inspired a number of video and online games, with brands like Sega and Nintendo offering the game on their platforms back in the 90’s. Nowadays, the story continues to inspire modern gamers, with online versions and adaptions still proving popular.


Modern versions

Two separate films were scheduled to be released in 2016, though only Jon Favreau’s version made it to the screen. Nature was portrayed as something to protect rather than overcome, and the film was a huge success, mixing live action with CGI to great effect. The characters also became more realistic, with only animals native to India used, dispensing with the orangutans from the 1967 classic.

Andy Serkis’s adaptation is now about to be released after stalled attempts to bring it to the big screen. It promises to be a much darker affair than before with Serkis wanting a much more serious tone possibly harking back to the original stories rather than the sing-along family favorite.

With a story of such history, it is unsurprising that The Jungle Book has evolved over time, shedding outdated imperialistic tones and concentrating on the need to look after nature. A more realistic portrayal of animals (apart from their ability to speak!) is also understandable. However, being such a classic, it would not be a surprise if yet further adaptations appear over the next 20 years.

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