Review: Kipling's Jungle Book + movies

Published 2.17.2017
To be clear, I’m only going to include commentary on the part of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling that relate to with the boy raised in the jungle by wolves, Mowgli. The book itself is a collection of stories, some of which have nothing to do with Mowgli.

Baloo Murray

I will begin with the 2016 movie, The Jungle Book.
I didn’t want to like this movie. I first watched it in bits and pieces on a trans Atlantic flight, and found it amusing. But that was on a long flight when other options were limited. Then I watched it again on Netflix, and found parts of it laugh out loud funny. Particularly funny are the scenes With Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear in the Monkey Temple.

It’s not a remake of the Disney animated version of The Jungle Book that came out when I was a child, and which we purchased for our kids to watch in their childhood. I don’t remember The Jungle Book being one of their favorite Disney films, but then it wasn’t one of mine either back in the day either. And that was when it didn’t have to compete with Pixar films.

There are a number of major differences between the animated version and this CGI dominated one, not least is how it ends. In Disney’s animated version, Mowgli goes back to the man village at the end, after using fire “the red flower” to finish off Shere Khan. In the new one, Mowgli delcines the opportunity to act like a man and use the fire, and instead invokes the “law of the jungle” to defeat the tiger. He then chooses to remain in the jungle with his bear and panther friends.

I wasn’t aware the bears actually lived in jungles (not that I ever thought about it until deciding to write , but apparently Sloth Bears are native to Indian jungles, and India is where Kipling based his stories. King Louis isn’t part of the book at all. In the animated version, King Louis was an orangutan, which do not live in India. In this version, King Louis is Gigantopithecus (and calls himself that in his monologues to Mowgli about went to have and control fire). The is a genus that once lived in India, but is now extinct. The animal was about 9 foot tall.

King Louis is how Mowgli learns that Akela, his wolf father, is murdered by Shere Khan, but Akela’s death isn’t in the first movie at all. King Louis brings his temple down on top of himself, which is how they escape the monkeys.

Mowgli then goes back avenge his father, rather than Shere Khan finding him. First he goes to the man village and steals some fire. Then he runs to find the tiger. The fire allows the bear and panther to find him. It also scares the hell out of everyone who then runs to the river. Which is where Mowgli also runs. Mowgli (in running to the river) accidentally sets the jungle on fire. Shere Khan points this out and notes that everyone is now terrified of him. Shere Khan starts monologuing about the red flower and using it. So Mowgli tosses it into the River, and Shere Khan looks to attack him.

And then Baloo starts reciting the Wolves’ Law of the jungle. Everyone else joins in, Baloo and Shere Khan fight. Baloo is injured and the wolves attack, Bagheera doesn’t let Mowgli join in but tells him to fight like a man- presumably without fire…

Shere Kahn defeats but can’t finish anyone off as he’s outnumbered. In the end, Mowgli climbs the dead tree— scene of an early defeat for him in the movie, and Shere Khan follows. This is in the part of the jungle that is burning, so Mowgli kind of uses fire to kill the tiger because the limb of the dead tree falls and the tiger drops into the fire. Afterward he runs into the elephants (who’d he’d saved a small one for), who he has damn the river to change the course of river to put out the flames.

During the credits King Louis is shown to alive, and he sings the song from the original animated version. They changed the lyrics to include the Gigantopithecus. They also have Kaa the cobra sing, which also didn’t happen in the second movie, but did in the original. Except that King Louie is completely made up, Kaa is the character that is most changed from the book (as I will explain shortly).

So after watching the movie, I decided to read Kipling’s book. I had a free Kindle version on my phone. I have no way to know if the version is true to the original. As an aside, Amazon used to make downloading free classic books much easier. These books are part of the public domain now, so there’s no reason that payment should be required— and it didn’t used to be. Now, however, even for books int he public domain Amazon tries to collect a dollar (or two). I understand why the company does this, I just prefer the old policy.

The Book

Movies are always different from books, always have been, and always will be. There are many reasons why this is so, especially when the source material is from an earlier time, as in this case. That having been noted, there are substantial differences between Disney’s adaptations and Kipling’s tale.

To begin with, the panther doesn’t find the kids, he wanders on his own into the wolves den and starts suckling. Shere Khan is crippled, and can’t hunt. He does go after a man, but it’s his feet that is burned, not his face. His human parents ran off, they were not eaten.

It’s the mother wolf Raksha (meaning Demon) who is the fiercer wolf. So when she stands as Pack leader at the end of the CGI movie, that’s plausible. The “Look well, O Wolves” is a line from the book too. Akela is indeed leader of the wolves, but is NOT father wolf. Raksha is “married” to a different wolf. Shere Khan cultivates the younger wolves, so that when Akela is deposed (as all older animals are) they’ll take car of Mowgli too.

It’s Bagheera (who along with Baloo show up when Mowgli is presented to the pack and both speak for Mowgli to be accepted) who send Mowgli to the man village to get the “red flower” so that he has a tool that can defeat Shere Khan. That’s very different.

When the time comes, Mowgli gets and tends to the fire and uses it to scare everyone— deliberately. Most of the wolves side with Shere Khan, calling Mowgli man not wolf and in response, Mowgli embraces his manhood. He doesn’t kill Shere Khan, but beats him with the blazing stick, and scares off the wolves that were with the tiger. Than he is sad because he has to leave the jungle. He says he will return with Shere Khan’s hide on his back.

So the first animated version was closer to the ending because Mowgli does scare off the tiger with the fire and does go back to the world of men. That’s where the movie ended. The book however, continues. Shere Khan is still alive at the end of the story. The new movie makes it more or less plain that he’s done for. And none of the wolves are on his side. Baloo is not involved beyond the presentation. Mowgli also spares Akela’s life, though Akela isn’t going to be lead wolf any more. He just tells the wolves not to kill him before running them off. He also says he won’t try to kill the wolves.

In the newer film, they had Bagheera training the wolf cubs rather than Baloo, who does the training in the book, but is used mostly for comedic effect in the movie (#BillMurray). In the book, Baloo was a big honey eater though there was no scene stealing honey from bees in the book.

In the book, Akela survives, while in the CGI Shere Khan kills him. Rather than quote the law of the jungle, Mowgli leaves the jungle after making use of the red flower. He did not drop it in the water. He not only scared the other animals, he singed a number of them with it. Mowgli also promises to return to the jungle to kill Shere Kahn.

About the “law of the jungle” — it’s described a number of times and the various parts of it listed, but never, ever is it explicitly spelled out. King Louis, who is a plot device to introduce the concept of power of fire in the animated movie and the give Mowgli a reason to go back to fight Shere Khan in the CGI one, does not (as noted above) exist in the book. Monkeys are indigenous to India, but none are large enough to be “king.” Hence making Kng Louis an orangutan in the animated one and an extinct Gigantopithecus in the GCI one.

The Mowgli stories are actually three different tales. Mowgli’s adventure with the Monkeys is told after he leaves the jungle, but occurred when he was younger. Except for the fact that King Louis is not involved, the second movie does a reasonable job of bringing that tale to life. Except for Kaa the cobra.

The monkeys do want to be like the man cub, and they do want Mowgli to show them. And Baloo and Bagheera are part of Mowgli’s escape from the monkeys. However, in the book, Kaa is actually the one who saves Mowgli because the monkeys fear him more than anyone else. Bagheera and Baloo go to Kaa and ask for his help, saying that the monkey shave been insulting him. Kaa agrees to help rescue the boy— not eat him. Kaa does have the power to hypnotize, but it is Mowgli who is immune to its effects and saves both the bear and panther from becoming a meal.

The third Mowgli story deals with the death of Shere Kahn as well as Mowgli’s life after going back to the village. In the original animated movie, Mowgli sees a girl and goes back to the village for good willingly. In the second movie, he stays in the jungle with Baloo and Bagheera. In the book, he goes back to the village unwillingly, and struggles to fit into human society. Ultimately he winds up being tasked with watching cattle and buffalo graze. The buffalo raom closer to the jungle than the cattle, so he goes with them and meets up with his wolf brothers, who keep him up to date as to the tiger’s whereabouts. Akela is also on the scene, not part of the wolf pack any more, but still alive and still on Mowgli’s side.

Eventually the wolves tell him the tiger is coming for him and is waiting outside the village to ambush him. With Akela, Mowgli herds the buffalos to where Shere Kahn is waiting, and essentially the buffalo trample the tiger to death. Mowgli uses a knife to take the tiger’s hide— which makes the village elders angry. However, Mowgli has Akela silence the man who tried to stop him, which makes the village think he is a demon because he can control the animals.

The villagers return just as Mowgli is about finished skinning the tiger and start to stone him. Mowgli gets hit in the mouth, but finishes the job and walks back into the jungle with the skin of Shere Kahn, which he brings back to the wolf pack, though he does not rejoin it. Instead he lives in the jungle with his friends and hunts. The hunting part was never addressed in either movie, of course.

Interestingly, Kipling ends the story by noting that eventually Mowgli goes back to the village to find a wife, but says that’s an adult story. I know I’ve read parts of the Jungle Book previously, but I’d never sat down to read through the entire set. It’s hard to imagine a modern writer penning such stories. Although the animals are anthropomorphized, the reality of the food chain is not sugar coated. Kipling wrote these stories for children.


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