From book to film, a look at the Jungle Book

Photo by Tyler Searle

The bluray edition of the new movie, versus the book. The question is, which is better?

As a young boy rides downriver on the back of sloth bear, old and young audiences alike sing alongside them about the Bare Necessities.

On April 15, 2016, Disney released a live action remake of the Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. The film was a commercial and critical success, and as of October, it is the 4th highest grossing film of 2016.

Though many people are familiar with the original 1967 Jungle Book, which Favreau’s film is remaking, what most people don’t know is that the Jungle Book is, ironically, based off of a book. Originally released in 1894, the Jungle Book is a collection of seven short stories written by English writer Rudyard Kipling. Though, aside from the names of the characters, the book and film are vastly different in terms of how they portray the characters and tell their story. Favreau’s film is more faithful to the book than the 1967 film, but still takes a lot of liberties.

Both the film and three of the book’s short stories follow the adventures of Mowgli, a human child (called a man-cub by animals) who is raised by a wolf pack in the Seeonee Hills. In the film, Mowgli (played by Neel Seti) is a curious child who is skilled at making tools and inventions to help him survive in the jungle. Though his friends and family don’t always approve of his tricks, he is still loyal to them and quick to jump to the aid of anyone in trouble.

In the book, Mowgli is much more of a wild child than his movie counterpart. Having been raised among the wolves allowed Mowgli to run and climb better than most men twice his age. Mowgli was also more cunning and proud in the book, which allowed him to lord over some animals and come up with creative ways of beating his rivals, usually through enlisting the help of unlikely allies.

Among Mowgli’s closest friends who shared in the majority of his adventures are the black panther Bagheera and the sloth bear Baloo. Both act as Mowgli’s teachers as well as his friends, but their roles are reversed in both mediums.

In the film, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), is a proud and old soldier who discovered Mowgli as an infant and brought him to the wolf pack. Since then he has looked after Mowgli as his chief teacher, and though he loves the man cub like his own, he is often frustrated by Mowgli’s inability to give up his human tricks.

In the book, Bagheera was born in captivity before he escaped into the jungle, and knows more about humans than most jungle folk. He loves Mowgli more than anything and often refers to him as “little brother,” but approaches life with a relaxed and aloof personality. He helped to pay for Mowgli’s initiation into the Seeonee wolf pack by killing a bull for the wolves.

As for Baloo (Bill Murray), he is a “jungle bum” who spends most of his days sleeping, eating, and singing without a care in the world. When he meets Mowgli, he recruits the boy to help him gather honey, and develops a parental bond with him. Soon after, he is willing to risk his easy going lifestyle to see Mowgli safe.

In the book, Baloo is the keeper of the Law of the Jungle—the unspoken rules that all jungle folk go by, and the words to say to befriend any creature. He vouched for Mowgli to be entered into the Seeonee wolf pack as an infant, and spent years teaching him the Law of the Jungle. In his old age he became stubborn and strict, and while he loved Mowgli like a son, he was not above clodding him over the head.

Even though the characters so far have had minor character changes, or had their personalities swapped with another, this is not the case for others. The most drastic change comes in Kaa, the giant rock python.

In the film, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), is present for only one scene, in which she acts and speaks much like a temptress. She hypnotizes Mowgli by showing him visions of how he lost his human family before trying to eat him. Afterwards, she is never seen again in the film.

In contrast, book Kaa is an ally of Mowgli, as well as male. When Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-Log monkeys, Baloo and Bagheera recruit Kaa to help them rescue the man cub. Afterwards, Kaa grows to appreciate Mowgli’s company and shares his vast wisdom of the jungle’s history with him. This information would prove invaluable in Mowgli’s later adventures.

In the end, Jon Favreau did a wonderful job adapting the Jungle Book for modern audiences. However, though his film is well loved, it is always good to look back at the original work and compare the changes.

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Tyler Searle is a second year journalism: web and print student at Durham College. His work primarily focuses on film, television, books, and games, though he also writes stories about local businesses and groups. Outside of school, Tyler reads fantasy books and spending time with his family. He hopes to use the skills he's amassed to become a writer for films, books, television, or video games.