With the Oscar’s too white campaign still ringing in the ears it seems that Disney’s newest version of The Jungle Book, which premieres in LA tonight (4th April 2016), may be caught up in the’ hulla – baloo’ (‘oh very clever’ – Ed) and as impressive as the CGI animals are in the live action film its already prompted some worries about racial stereotyping of which the 1967 cartoon was accused.
For anyone who has read Rudyard Kipling’s book they will be aware that he wrote from quite a strong British colonial perspective and it wasn’t addressed particularly successfully with the 1967 version – who can forget King Louie (a character not in the book) who’s diction was worse than the other animals in the film voiced by the superb singer and trumpeter Louie Prima who, when asked by the Disney animators to play the role, is alleged to have replied, ‘You wanna make a monkey outta me?’ It didn’t help that the song,’ I wanna be like you’ was sung by a black actor to a white actor Phil Harris who was playing Baloo bear. It left Disney wide open to criticism of inequality. To counter that in the new version King Louie will be played by Christopher Walken.
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2) has filmed a script which is a hybrid of the original animated movie and the book using state of the art CGI inspired by 2013 Oscar winner, ‘Gravity’ and should be a safe pair of hands though he‘s still keen to keep the jazz music influences from the 1967 version.
Favreau’s new version does have an all star cast with animals voiced by Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley & Idris Elba. Interestingly Kaa the snake is voiced by Scarlett Johansson but in the version to be released in India actress Priyanka Chopra will voice the role.
Having sen the film ourselves recently we can confidently say that Disney have successfully addressed these issues in what is a really great live action version of the story.
This is not the first time there’s been a reboot of the novel (though the animated film remains a favourite among many) with Disney themselves having produced a live action version in 1994 with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli and the studio even producing an animated sequel in 2003 with John Goodman voicing Baloo which made a healthy $135m worldwide.
Warner brothers will be especially interested in how this performs as they have their own version ‘Jungle Book:Origins’ out late 2017 which is the feature film directorial debut of motion capture actor supremo, Andy Serkis who will also be playing the role of Baloo.