The Jungle Book: Beautiful Film, Flawed Storytelling

Jungle Book Fire

This storyteller finds six cracks in the new Jungle Book that mar the narrative in this visually enchanting movie, providing a lesson in how to construct a story by ensuring your characters’ motivations and choices are consistent and believable.

So you already saw the recent reboot of The Jungle Book film and you know it’s very popular and praised by critics and viewers alike. Looking at the headline of this post, you probably think I’m crazy. “Whaaat? Did you find issues with this beautiful film? You’re just crazy and jealous. Go back to the jungle where you belong!”

Right. But I’ll say it again: this latest Jungle Book installment is so flawed, I feel an obligation to call it out. I don’t care about photo-realistic visuals – give me a gripping, entrancing story and believable characters I want to care for. That’s where this movie did not deliver.

The Jungle Book promised a lot, but did it deliver?

When a writer goes to the cinema, he doesn’t see mind-blowing effects and CGI first, or good-looking actors and sexy actresses. Writers watch a movie differently: we are keen on the story and the characters’ paths from the beginning of the film to its end. A writer watches closely each and every step on this path, every crevice and every choice. If the path is linear and easy and the choices are hollow or false or just don’t matter at all, a writer might decide a film is a failure – even if it is delightful to look at.

The Jungle Book‘s story begins on an unbearably hot, sunny day when drought has not only come to the jungle where a human cub named Mowgli was living, but to the writers’ and director’s heads. Once full and strong and rich, the river of creativity has run dry, leaving only a streamlet. And so the cracks started crawling along the dry, scorched earth of The Jungle Book movie…

Crack one: Baloo

Jungle Book Baloo
Baloo in this movie is kind of time-server and manipulator of the animal world. He takes advantage of the others just to fill his belly up. He makes a little boy work for him, he doesn’t care that the boy could easily slip from the rock or that the bees could sting him to death. Moreover, Baloo tells Mowgli lies: these bees don’t sting, it’s all right, go ahead. Then, out of the blue, Baloo starts to act nobly. He leaves the pile of fresh, sweet honey the boy got for him and offers to help him and give him a ride to the human village.

Seriously? Does this behavior have any logic to it? What do you think? Is it inherent in the character’s traits and motivation?

For the love of Kipling, no! In good stories, characters have two main drives: to avoid danger and to get a treasure (speaking figuratively, of course), just like in real life. So Baloo, a manipulative and selfish bear, would never play the role of a Good Samaritan and help the boy simply out of the goodness of his heart while abandoning his precious treasure: fresh and tasty honey.

This crack could have been patched up relatively easily if the movie makers went for one of two options:
1. Mowgli could ask Baloo for help and in return promise to get all the honey down from the rock, or
2. Baloo could offer Mowgli a deal (which is totally in his manner): he would help the boy get to the human village, but first the boy would have to get all the honey down from the rock.

But The Jungle Book’s writers chose the easy way, taking advantage of a fast pace, and ignoring logic in their character’s behavior. In the end, this first crack happened to be so deep that it gave birth to…

Crack two: King Louie

Jungle Book Louie
King Louie’s behavior is just as illogical and hard to believe – and I’m not even talking about his abrupt singing. He’s an orangutan (well, not exactly, but let’s just assume he is), but he’s a Bandar-log king as well, right? Kings usually are keen on luxury, and we see a lot of it in his royal hall, including piles of food and piles of treasures. So we can be sure Louie is a pretty typical king who likes luxury as well as power.

So why does he destroy the entire monkey temple trying to catch a miserable boy? His Bandar-log army could do it better and faster, without tumbling down the temple. They did it before, remember?

I find two reasons why this scene is hard to believe.

  1. Kings let others do their dirty work. As a king, Louie is used to giving orders, not to executing them himself. He wouldn’t even have to raise his big hairy hand and flick a finger. One short order would have been enough. And while his citizens were pursuing the boy, he would have been enjoying his papaya. Or his singing. (I’d prefer the papaya.)
  2. Louie wouldn’t destroy his home. King Louie has a pretty wondrous home. Nevertheless, he acts too impulsively and completely destroys his only dwelling, his royal palace, with his own hands. Now tell me, what kind of king would do that?

I also find it hard to believe how easily King Louie breaks down the stone walls and pillars of the monkey temple. Yes, he’s huge and terribly strong, but he’s still not King Kong. But, OK, I can see why they made this choice and I can let it go. But what I can’t forgive is the dubious behavior of the wolves, which splits the whole film with a long…

Crack three: The wolves

Jungle Book Wolves
There are moments in this movie when wolves don’t act like wolves at all. And those moments are the key ones.

Remember the first scene Shere Khan appeared in? Akela fearlessly cuts off the tiger and tells him straight to his face not to dare to trouble the peace of their domain. Here rules Akela, not Shere Khan. He came to the pond from a foreign land and he ought to respect the local law. That’s a nice scene.

But to my big surprise, when Shere Khan isn’t around, Akela and the wolf pack act like a bunch of cowards. They gather on the rock discussing how it would be best for them to get rid of the human cub. When Mowgli nobly decides to go away by his own will, only his wolf mother Raksha tries to stop him. But what does it matter? Akela is quick to agree with the boy’s decision to venture out into the dangerous jungle. Akela would agree to anything if only the boy would be far off from the pack.

Let’s fast forward a bit. Mowgli has already left, Akela is lying on the rock, thinking everything will be fine now. Shere Khan freely approaches the rock and climbs up to Akela with no one to stop him or at least warn Akela. Obviously, the tiger can walk where he wishes, be it his domain or someone else’s. The wolves seem to be completely fine with it.

A short conversation follows. Akela is calm and tries to cajole the tiger. He got rid of the human cub so the tiger should be satisfied and the peace will follow. But the tiger can’t buy that – suddenly he leaps at Akela, snaps him in half and hurls him off the rock.

It’s probably the most shocking scene of The Jungle Book. Such abrupt and senseless violence in a seemingly kid-friendly movie. But what shocked me even more was the wolves’ reaction to Akela’s murder. All that Raksha does is scream. That’s it. Wolves jump to their feet and start pacing to and fro with their tails between their legs and their muzzles lowered while Shere Khan is spouting his threats.

Can you believe that? That pack of wolves, whose leader has just been murdered before their very eyes, without any reason or fair fight, does nothing to pay Shere Khan back? It was a terrible crime by all laws, the law of the jungle included. It was an unforgivable insult to their wolfish pride. But the whole pack is afraid of an old, beaten up, and scorched tiger? Seriously? The tiger they could have thrown down the rock if they all had attacked him at once. Can you believe that the leader’s mate is just listening to the threats of her cubs’ father’s murderer and does nothing?

So much for the wolf’s oath, recited solemnly throughout the movie by just about anybody (including Mowgli, the wolves, Baloo, and Bagheera): “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

This wolf pack betrayed their own oath twice:
1. When they forced their “wolf by the blood,” as they called him numerous times, to leave the pack (Mowgli wouldn’t have left if it weren’t for the wolves’ council).
2. When they allowed Shere Khan to murder their leader and completely get away with it.

it’s worth considering how wolves are usually presented in the movies and books. They are either noble animals that honor their pack and sometimes even help humans, or they can be frightful and bloodthirsty beasts that kill anything, including humans. In any case, wolves aren’t usually depicted as cowards – we have other animals for that.

But Jon Favreau, the director of this new version of The Jungle Book, killed my faith in the law of the jungle and honor. The noble animals in this movie that either recite, learn, or teach the oath turn out to be windbags and cowards.

If I were in Mowgli’s moccasins, I wouldn’t try so desperately to become a part of their pack. In fact, King Louie’s offer seems to be more compelling, on the condition that he doesn’t start singing again.

Crack four: Convenience of scale

Jungle Book Shere Khan
There are times when the jungle looks vast (in the beginning) and other times when it looks small (in the end). It’s very handy for the director: when he wants to make the travel longer, the jungle has all kinds of obstacles and dangers at hand, like a ravine with earth slides, a long river, a tropical forest with gigantic snakes. But when the movie is dashing to the hot finale, trying to keep up with Mowgli running with a torch, the jungle shrinks to a small park with a short and easy path. You almost can see a fluffy rug under his feet.

Crack five: The trap

Jungle Book Kaa
Mowgli sets up a trap for Shere Khan using a dead tree. Now, dead means dry. And dry means easy to set fire to. And easy to set fire to means that when everything is ablaze all around, this dead tree will also have fire flower petals blossoming and dancing. But the director shows us not one prick of flame on the driest tree in the jungle, while everything around it is red with fire. It’s too convenient – and too unlikely.

This could be fixed in an instance, if only the director had put fire flowers here and there on the dead tree. But no one cared enough to do that, and while the fire was raging around, the tormented ground of The Jungle Book shuddered for the last time.

Crack six: The climax

Jungle Book Fire
The final crack in the film consists of one of the clumsiest climaxes ever: the boy has set fire to the jungle and endangered the lives of so many animals, but somehow he becomes a hero. As Shere Khan fairly noted, he has thrown away his only weapon: the fire flower.

A couple moments before, the animals were so scared of Mowgli that they couldn’t meet his eyes and stepped back. But now they take his side and recite wolf’s oath. It’s particularly odd to watch Baloo participating in it. He is first to say the oath – the very same oath he mocked and called propaganda earlier.

But that’s not the worst part. This I can handle. But what I just can’t forgive is how easily Mowgli’s fatal mistake is forgotten. He brought the fire flower into the jungle and risked many lives. They didn’t show us the fire in too much detail, but we can clearly see it’s devastating enough: many trees and animals and birds and insects perished in the flames. For this terrible, unforgivable mistake, the law of the jungle has only one punishment: death.

But this mistake is not only unpunished, it’s rewarded. After Shere Khan’s death, Bagheera (the narrator) admits he’s seen plenty of things and experienced a lot, but he would never forget that night, the night when the human cub managed to do a remarkable thing that had never done before: he united all the animals and brought them to peace.

Right… that’s a fabulous way of making everybody friends: cause a calamity, kill the mutual enemy, and then take a few elephants and change the river’s path to put out a fire. No one thinks about the aftermath of such a huge disaster. Yeah, live long and prosper, Mowgli and friends.

It’s surprising to me why no one notices the terrible outcome of Mowgli’s grave desire to take revenge on Shere Khan. If only he had listened to old wise Bagheera and traveled to the human village, all this wouldn’t have happened. Shere Khan would be furious, but what would he do? The human cub would stop annoying him with his scent, and the tiger would go back where he came from.

It wasn’t all bad

This movie has some great and valuable messages weaved organically into the plot. An adult will surely notice them and a child will understand and remember them thanks to the dynamic picture unfolding in front of their eyes.

The new Jungle Book teaches us to always be ourselves and not to try to become someone else just because someone thinks you should. Another valuable message is, you shouldn’t follow every rule blindly – sometimes you must break the rules to save someone’s life.

But the finale adds one more message, and this one isn’t nearly as nice: revenge at all costs. Mowgli doesn’t respect his mentor’s advice to travel to the human village and shouts he will avenge Akela’s death. Then he ventures forth to accomplish this stupid task and in the outcome he burns down the jungle.

Generally, a child shouting about revenge and who has something to take revenge for is a horrible and immensely sad thing. Such themes aren’t family friendly at all. They are suitable for a film about a war but not for a Disney film about animals who even sing occasionally.

I have a feeling that director Jon Favreau never decided who he produced this movie for, adults or children. As a result, we saw a super-realistic picture showing animals that very convincingly live, sing, suffer, kill, and die. If it’s a kids’ movie, it has too much violence, and the main story arc (Mowgli is banished – Akela is murdered – Mowgli avenges Akela) would have to be rewritten.

If Favreau’s target audience is adults, then he never should have taken a part in this. Turning a classic Disney cartoon into super realistic animation/feature film about animals and a boy driven by revenge – it’s a strange idea.

It’s a mystery to me why film studios continue to release such movies: beautiful picture, hole-ridden plot. Why the filmmakers don’t channel more of their resources into polishing their story until it shines – and even more so, has no holes in it?

So what do you think? Do you agree with me on the issues with The Jungle Book or do I criticize the movie too severely? Or perhaps reading this post, you found that your story has similar flaws? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on Reposted with permission.

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  1. Okay, let’s go over your cracks one at a time. First, Baloo and taking Mowgli to the village. That isn’t him being a Good Samaritan, it’s him being very cunning. He is offering Mowgli a choice: do what Bagheera says, in which case Baloo has more honey than he did before, OR do what he really wants and stay in the jungle for the low price of helping him collect the honey. Baloo already knows what Mowgli will choose, he’s just making Mowgli realize it.

    Second, King Louie. By the time he gets up, all his monkeys have left to try and deal with Baloo and Bagheera, so this is one of the times when a king must rise to get his treasure.

    Three: the Wolves. Akela can stand tall at the watering hole because he knows that even Shere Khan won’t break the water truce. Outside of that, tigers are the undisputed kings in India. Everyone in India knows that nothing, not the bears, not the leopards, not even the wolves can stand up to even a single tiger. That’s one of the points of the climax: to show just why everyone insisted on Mowgli leaving, tigers are too dangerous. Only man and the elephants can stand up to a tiger, and even they can fall if the tiger is smart. That is why the wolves do nothing against Shere Khan until they have the entire jungle on their side.

    Cracks Four and Six I can’t really argue with, but Five I can. As you said, the things around the dead tree are burning, but until the fire DOES touch the tree, it can’t do a thing to it. Fire isn’t sentient, it just destroys what it touches, and what it can’t touch is safe, no matter how well it will burn.

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  3. Kipling’s Jungle Books were my favorite childhood books; I can still quote entire passages… “Look well, O wolves!”… My hardbound copies from 1955 are still on my grandkids’ shelves, sadly displaced by computer games. This production was a travesty, trivializing characters and story. Painful to watch… but typical Disney. Now I remember why I turned away from Disney as a young adult… and again, today.

    • Ama, computer games aren’t that aweful. :) It depends on the particular games. There are so many beautiful, innovative and also story and character driven games! Like Planescape: Torment, for example.

  4. I agree completely. Special FX and speed of delivery seem to take the place of good plot, which I cannot understand as it’s the least expensive part of the movie. I’m reminded of the thriller “The Shooter” which has the hook that a bullet fired from one gun is retrieved and filed from another to frame the protagonist. In the book, they shoot the bullet into sand, retrieve it intact, and the concept it works fine. In the movie, they shoot the bullet into a stump and even have a scene showing how mangled it is. Huh? The entire hook of the plot is not only broken, but it’s broken in a very intentional way. For $100 million, how does this happen?
    The Jungle Book in particular had absolutely no pace. It was a continuous onslaught like somebody took all of the action scenes in Bourne Identity and edited them into one clip. It was loud and in your face, it lacked all grace or sense of story telling. It was sad, and despite the flaws of the original, I don’t understand why you would remake something and not have the original at least as a baseline which you aspire to rise above. In fact, the last remake which probably had any value was the Magnificent 7, and that still wasn’t as good as Seven Samurai. I’m sure the remake of that coming out this week will be as vapid as the rest.

  5. I’m actually surprised so many people agree with this article. I’ve seen the movie once and can explain most of these.

    1. I’ll give you this one. That was a clear oversight.

    2. Considering how rare a commodity a man-cub is, Louie maybe didn’t trust his subordinates to deal with this themselves? We see this happen A LOT in film; the leader of the antagonistic group takes matters into his own hands when they grow big enough to require his attention. Also, he’s an animal, so despite being a fictional world where he can talk, it’s still conceivable logic isn’t entirely there and he acts on instinct from time to time.

    3. Speaking of instinct, fear is a huge motivator. The wolves were afraid. Could they have taken Shere Khan? Probably. Would some of them have died in the process? Most definitely. It’s about Shere Khan’s reputation and brutality that frightens the wolves into submission (also why Aleka reconsiders his position after first acting rashly—something many humans do in the heat of the moment, and these animals are portrayed to at least have SOME human qualities, even if being animals with animalistic tendencies).

    Would you have preferred a movie where the villain does one thing and then immediately gets knocked off a cliff? Also, that’s revenge, too, so yeah.

    4. Convenience of scale is a bit nitpicky. In a climactic chase scene, we don’t want it to drag on for half an hour. At some point it would lose steam and the interest and intensity of the scene would falter. Also, we’re assuming animals make peace treaties and can speak and whatnot. Is changing scale really *that* big of an offense given the suspension of disbelief required already?

    5. Also feels nitpicky, but I can’t totally argue with this. There should’ve been more attention brought to this, but given all that likely went into making this scene, you have to remember that humans made this movie, and humans slip up sometimes. Not an excuse, but there are PLENTY of goofs like this in major motion pictures (and books, for that matter).

    6. The point wasn’t supposed to be revenge (even though that played a part); it was ridding the jungle of a menace who imposed his will on anyone who defied him. I really don’t get how that’s so hard to grasp. That is also why Mowgli got a pass for setting *part* of the jungle on fire (the whole jungle wasn’t destroyed, as you subtly imply, making it to be more illogical than it actually is—and shame on you for that), and the elephants were able to extinguish it quickly thereafter. There are numerous examples throughout human history where sacrifices were made for the greater good, and by this point it was evident that the entire jungle viewed Shere Khan as a villain that needed to be disposed of by any means necessary.

    Any birds would have flown off before they were burned, too, because it’s not like the birds lost the ability to fly. THAT would have been illogical.

    Also, I totally reject the “it’s too violent” remark. Give me a break! Like a child is going to watch that and think, “Oh, it’s okay for me to set a forest on fire”? If that child is being raised properly, s/he won’t. I watched worse stuff in my youth and I’ve never committed a crime in my life. Media’s influence is a scapegoat used to shift blame from parents/caretakers and a society that don’t do their jobs correctly.

    Honestly, a lot of this seems like grasping for things to criticize because you didn’t want to like the movie (maybe because you’re a huge fan of the Kipling works? I don’t know). That seems to be the majority of commenters who agreed with you (though not all, and if people genuinely hated the movie, that’s their prerogative). So many of these issues, though, are easy to explain.

    • Thanks for the comment, Stephen! I can see where you’re coming from with your conclusions and explanations, but I still can’t agree.

      You say shame on me on exaggerating the damage Mowgli did to the jungle. Well, did you really see that jungle fire? As it was shown, the jungle was so much in fire that I really worried about other animals. Taking the dry season into account, one can make an assumption as to what scale such a fire would go up to when spreading throw the dry jungle.

      Your point here: “Convenience of scale is a bit nitpicky. In a climactic chase scene, we don’t want it to drag on for half an hour.”

      Of course, we don’t want to be bored to death, totally! And I completely understand that it’s a movie about talking animals. :) But then there should be some kind of an explanation to the amazing speed of traveling Mowgli suddenly acquired. I can’t close my eyes on this when the first part of the movie is about how vast the jungle is and how it’s hard to travel and full of many dangers – and then suddenly, when the hero needs to be at the right time in the right place, all what was shown us, all that worldbuilding is swept under the rug and one boy with a torch can travel all the jungle without any obstacles or hassles to his final showdown.

      For me, it is just too convenient to be true. Someone can find no issue with this, but I personally can’t let it slip so easily. When I’m developing my stories, I try to do my best with every detail, time and space. If I said earlier in the book that the road to the castle takes 2 days, it will take 2 days even if the princess is dying and the hero should save her. It doesn’t matter. I can’t adjust time and space to help my characters. If they’re not wizards, that is. :) What I can do is to come up with some solution to solve their troubles: how can that hero get to the castle in time? But that’s another story, I suppose.

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  7. I agree, this Jungle Book is not that great, but neither are many of the movies that make it to the screen and cost well over $100M. It seems to be all about special effects in these movies, and character motivation doesn’t seem to matter at all. I don’t agree with some of the commenters that Disney is not making anything good because I really feel they have some great movies out there, although many of them of late have been animated, I still consider that story telling, perhaps in its purest form as there are no egomaniacal actors trying to steal each others scenes.

    All in all, I blame ALL movie companies, not just Disney because it isn’t just them after all, for going for CGI over story and enough with the 3D too – it is NOT needed on all movies!

  8. Glass houses, man. I haven’t seen the film, and I don’t doubt that the flaws referred to are there and then some. But this article isn’t much better. It’s awkward, dotted with dashed diction, clumsy, and unsophisticated. I mean, that’s just me: I tend to believe one should be a master of something before one prepares criticism of it.

    • Sorry to hear that my post didn’t meet your expectations. I can say that I’m working on my English every day of my life, though. I believe that with time, I will master it on a high enough level and write a post or a book that you will genuinely like.

      So just hang around till that time. ;)

  9. I guess I must have led a charmed life for although I watched a few Disney movies as a child [ Dr Syn The Scarecrow to name one ] The Jungle Book was not one of them .
    Over the years I saw clips from the original Disney and remember singing along to ‘ bear necessities ‘ with friends on occaission , but Disney was not ‘ must see ‘ viewing in my life .
    I’m starting to think entertainment has a dark agenda based on your review , especially if it is condoning and promoting revenge as a solution .
    Anyone see the Brandon Lee version , I personally quite liked that one ?
    Thanks for the well presented review and thus saving my money from being wasted , though I can remember the last time I visited a movie theatre and watched Tron Legacy I felt so cheated I can’t remember whether I have visited one since

    • You’re welcome!

      Yes, it’s very frustrating to go see the movie you have high expectations and then coming out after a couple hours feeling cheated and wasted this precious time.

      I’m trying to decide whether I have the courage to experience new ‘Ghostbusters’ now…

      I don’t know anything about Brandon Lee version.

  10. I’d have started with the positives, once you hooked the reader. But you’re right; the story line doesn’t seem consistent with character. Do you think maybe the CGI took away from production value more than it added?

    • Thanks for the tip!

      You know, probably yes. Because it seems that moviemakers were so focused on getting the virtual animals’ fur right that they forgot to add any substance to the film.

      It’s like with the video games: big-budget AAA titles are usually praised for their advanced physics and photo-realistic graphics, but for me, these both are very easy to produce. It takes only the skill, not really a talent or much of a creativity. And what matters most in the games is actually the gameplay.

      So in recent years, as opposed to the mainstream, we have been seeing the trend of smaller budget games with simpler, retro-looking graphics and deep and original gameplay mechanics.

      I wonder if we will ever get to read a retro-book with long introductory descriptions, maybe fewer twists, and emphasis on artistic value, not on page-turning and getting into New York Times Bestseller list.

      Or then, perhaps we will see some retro-movies? “Mad Max: Fury Road” might be one of the first, I think, taking into account its production values and overall concept of doing as much as possible with only actors, cameras, and decorations.

  11. As I said, those who are film making for Disney are really not concerned about real story telling but making something that is visually appealing. I think they need to go back and look at how things were done originally and try to carry on that tradition of good story telling. Singing lions or baboons? ik!

  12. well if this was a Disney remake, that explains why is is so flawed. over the last 15–20 years that studio is writing stuff that is not within the tradition of Walt Disney and is just junk. If this was NOT a Disney production. I agree, it was the victim of sloppy writing and story telling. Apparently no attempt was made to stay true to the original story. Perhaps these people had an agenda and ignored good story telling for “What sells” One of the flaws of a remake, they are rarely, if ever, better than the original. Sad.

    • Yes, just money-grabbing case here, as I see it. No real artistic value – or value whatsoever. End credits are cool, though. :)

      You know, when I watch a movie like that, with a huge budget, famous names behind it and all the buzz it gets, I think what I could have done with the budget like this and resources at my hand. I just can’t get why these rich, famous, talented (they must be talented to be in the storytelling and entertaining industry, right?) fail at such a big level just because of some lazy things they let slip through their hands. As was mentioned, every flaw could have been fixed if only someone paid attention to it and gave it even a small effort.

  13. Thank you!!! I was originally reluctant to even go to the “new, improved” Jungle Book movie. The visuals were indeed stunning, and your cracks are spot on. What’s most frustrating to me as a KIPLING’s Jungle Book lover, is that most of the awkwardness that you describe were handily dispatched in the orginal books rather than this mishmash of Disney and somebody’s action film.

    • I’m happy my post was helpful for you and spared you the bother of watching this modern “Jungle Book.”

      Yes, the main problem of the movie, as I see it, is that the producers didn’t decide what they wanted to direct and for what kind of audience. So it watches as an action film with occasional silly childish songs and really brutal battle, kill and chase scenes.

      But I hear that Andy Serkis is making his own version of “The Jungle Book” movie, so we can hope that it will turn out more Kipling than Disney.

  14. The biggest mistake of all–which the cartoon of 40+ years ago made as well–was trashing Kipling in favor of silly songs and cardboard characters. Had they followed the books, not one of the six problems listed above would have happened.

    In the real Jungle Book, Baloo had his moments of clumsiness, but he was a stern, noble and fair teacher of the Jungle Law that all animals had to follow. There was no wolf oath–there was one law all the beasts lived under; Mowgli too. Shere Khan didn’t kill Akela; Akela lived long after Shere Khan’s hide was decorating Council Rock and was killed in an epic battle against the evil, cowardly dholes. The Bandar-log had no king; their culture couldn’t have had one, because none of them listened to each other and they all spoke at the same time. A people like the Bandar-log wouldn’t have listened to a king if they’d had one, and he wouldn’t have lasted long. And (not mentioned here but equally important) Kaa the rock-python was not evil; in fact he (yes, he) and Mowgli were friends, although most of the jungle did not trust him (with good reason). Kaa was the most morally ambiguous character in the stories, and he always fascinated me.

    Kipling’s Mowgli stories were pure magic. I read them as a teenager and now, at the age of 57, I still read them because the picture Kipling painted was so vivid, the characters so cleanly portrayed, the stories thrilling, and the character arc–not only of Mowgli but of the other characters (human and animal) as well, were deftly drawn. This movie was a dud, but then in my view, so was the original. After seeing the original for the first time (right after reading the stories for the first time) I was horrified and disappointed in what had been done to Kipling’s magic. Of course, I know now that expecting Disney to follow an existing story (Anastasia, Pocahontas, Little Mermaid, anyone?) is like expecting to kiss a real-life frog and have it turn into a prince. But it was a shock back then. To anyone who reads this note, go and read the real Mowgli stories (you can find them in the first and second Jungle Books, or you can find them all combined without extraneous stories and WITH a sequel, in a book called “All the Mowgli Stories”). Kipling’s language is a little florid for modern-day readers, but trust me, it’s still magic. I say this despite having thirty years of writing and editing experience; Kipling tells a terrific story, and he tells it well.

    • Thanks for so many details on the Kipling’s original! Shame to admit, I didn’t have the privilege to read it yet, but it’s on my list. Though I’m philologist and should have read it at the university, I was a bad student, I suppose. :)

      In fact, I know everything you pointed out in the narrative because it was meticulously transferred to a Soviet-era Russian cartoon I watched and loved when I was a kid. Baloo there was noble, Bandar-log didn’t have a silly king, and Kaa was Mowgli’s friend and kind of mentor, if I remember right.

      The only difference was that Bagheera in that cartoon was feminine. I’m sure it’s because for Russian viewers and readers, the name of Bagheera sounds very female, like Svetlana, Galyna, Tatiana. So odd for me now to find out that Bagheera is actually a guy. :)

      Anyway, I’d recommend you and anyone interested in a good cartoon really based on the original “The Jungle Book” to watch this Soviet cartoon. I think there should be a translation or subs. I remember it as a great cartoon, well-drawn and very wise, as a fairy tale or a child book should be.

    • Thanks! I just tried to show people that this widely praised movie doesn’t deserve to be… well, so widely praised. I believe that as long as we let such flawed movies to be popular (to storm the box offices and steal got headlines and nice reviews) and don’t speak up about their actual problems and why they’re not perfect really – as long as we as customers let producers and advertisers do this, we will be getting a whole bunch of average quality movies.

      I mean, they’re beautiful on the outside, no doubt at this. But what about their inner structure, message, characters, flow?

      I always remember brilliants from the past, like “It’s a wonderful life” and “You can’t take it with you” and “A tree grows in Brooklyn,” and try to unconsciously compare the new movies against old ones, and it doesn’t get me anywhere good. Only frustration.

      Though, again, we have recent gems like “Zootopia,” so I still believe in good movies at this time of age. :)

  15. Alex I agree wholeheartedly. I know Kipling; there was plenty there if Favreau and the suits only looked. It’s a gorgeous dreadful film whose inconsistencies and poor execution are an embarrassment.
    Lovely to look at
    But it stinks from the ground up
    Easy fixes
    Lazy production

    • I’m glad you’re of the same opinion. You know, this new “The Jungle Book” movie is outrageously popular – and I don’t know why. I saw it only once and it was more than enough for me to see all the problems I can’t forgive.

      Though the ending credits were great and fun. :)

      You said it exactly as I see it: it was so easy to fix, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t fixed. So strange for me. It’s like the moviemakers didn’t even bothered to have the script edited or production supervised.


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