Our look back at the previous big screen Jungle Book movies before the new film hits theaters
On April 15, Disney is revisiting The Jungle Book with a new big-screen adaptation from director Jon Favreau that will update the classic tale from the animated Jungle Book movie with elements of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. In popular culture, the original Disney version of The Jungle Book has largely overshadowed Kipling’s versions of the characters that he created. But make no mistake, Disney doesn’t own The Jungle Book. It’s simply one incarnation of the tale.
Kipling’s Jungle Book was first published as a series of short stories in magazines in 1893, which introduced readers to Mowgli, the “man cub” who was raised by wolves in the jungle and established his friendships with Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, and even Kaa the snake, whom the Disney films would have you believe was a villain!
The Jungle Book has been proven to be very popular with filmmakers over the last 75 years, with different adaptations of the classic stories and more than a few attempts by Disney to make a franchise out of Mowgli’s adventures. Ahead of Favreau’s Jungle Book, ComingSoon.net is looking back at a few of the previous adaptations that came before it.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: Jungle Book (1942)
In 1942, the Korda brothers attempted to make a big-screen epic based on Kipling’s Jungle Book. However, the story has little resemblance to the familiar adventures depicted in The Jungle Book. Instead, director Zoltán Korda focused on Sabu Dastagir’s Mowgli as he is forced to return to the village of birth and reintegrate with humanity while preventing the greedy Buldeo (Joseph Calleia) from locating the treasure of the jungle.
For the time period, Korda’s Jungle Book was a big office success, but it has since slipped into the public domain.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: The Jungle Book (1967)
Among Disney historians, The Jungle Book is most notable as the final film produced by Walt Disney before his death. It’s also the most well-known version of The Jungle Book. Walt Disney Pictures has always rewritten popular myths and fairy tales to suit the needs of the studio and the audience, and The Jungle Book was not immune to that. The Disney film made several significant changes to the personalities of the leading characters, including it’s comical depiction of Kaa as an inept villain.
Disney’s version of Baloo was the breakout character in this film, and it’s memorable soundtrack by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, with Terry Gilkyson made it into an animated classic. Gilkyson’s “Bare Necessities” song is even referenced in several of the trailers for the newest Jungle Book movie.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: Adventures of Mowgli (1967)
Kipling’s Jungle Book was also very popular in Russia, which led to another animated adaptation, Maugli, by director Roman Davydov and Soyuzmultfilm that was completely independent from the Disney adaptation and more faithful to the original story. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t changes. For example, Bagheera is female in this version of the story.
Maugli was released as a series of five animated shorts beginning in 1967, which were then edited together as a movie. The film was renamed Adventures of Mowgli for its U.S. release in 1996, with Charlton Heston as the narrator.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994)
As noted earlier, Favreau’s Jungle Book isn’t the first time that Disney tried to reboot it in live-action. That would be this film, by director Stephen Sommers, years before he directed The Mummy and G.I. Joe movies. Although this movie has Rudyard Kipling’s name in the title, it has very little to do with his original stories. Instead of a “man cub,” Mowgli is very much a man in this film, as portrayed by Jason Scott Lee. And future Game of Thrones actress Lena Headey was Mowgli’s love interest, Katherine!
Strangely enough, the animals don’t talk in this version of the story. Sommers’ Jungle Book was moderately successful, but not a blockbuster hit.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo (1997)
Kipling did write a book called The Second Jungle Book, which featured the further adventures of Mowgli. But this movie was still based on the original Jungle Book, despite its title. Director Duncan McLachlan helmed this version of the tale, with Jamie Williams starring as Mowgli, and Billy Campbell as Harrison, an American circus scout who wanted to make Mowgli a circus star. The late great Roddy McDowall also co-starred as King Murphy, the ruler of an ancient city.
This version of the story was a huge bomb with western audiences, and it made under $400,000 at the box office.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story (1998)
Disney tried to strike gold again in The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story, a live-action, direct-to-video feature film by director Carlos Saldanha. Unlike Sommers’ adaptation, the animals were once again given voices by a fairly impressive cast including Clancy Brown, Eartha Kitt, Sherman Howard, and Peri Gilpin. Bill Murray’s older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, provided the voice of Baloo, while Brandon Baker starred as as Mowgli.
This story also took certain “Disney liberties” with the original tale, and it’s largely been forgotten.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: The Jungle Book 2 (2003)
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Disney started doing direct-to-video sequels for its animated classics. Hence the studio’s fourth stab at The Jungle Book. And once again, this was not based on The Second Jungle Book. Instead, The Jungle Book 2 was more or less a rehash of the original Disney animated movie, as Mowgli grew disenchanted with his life among the humans.
The Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment took over the role of Mowgli, with John Goodman as Baloo, and Mae Whitman as Shanti, and Mowgli’s friend and the girl who appeared at the end of Disney’s The Jungle Book. Unlike most DTV films, The Jungle Book 2 actually received a theatrical release, and it performed fairly well at the international box office.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: The Jungle Book (2016)
Amazingly, this is Walt Disney Pictures’ fifth adaptation of The Jungle Book, but the early signs are that this may also be the most successful version. Director Jon Favreau has cast newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli and picked an amazing lineup of performers to lend their voices to the film. Bill Murray is voicing Baloo, with Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa.
This version of The Jungle Book extensively uses CGI to create the illusion of the talking animals and the jungle itself. And so far, the footage from the trailers has been very impressive.
The Jungle Book Movies Guide: Jungle Book: Origins (2017)
Warner Bros. has a Jungle Book movie of its own scheduled to be released on October 6, 2017. However, it is running the risk of being overshadowed by Disney’s latest Jungle Book. For Warner Bros., Andy Serkis will be directing Jungle Book: Origins and starring as the voice of Baloo. And Serkis also has a great cast of vocal performers, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, Christian Bale as Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, Naomie Harris as Raksha, and Tom Hollander as Tabaqui.
Rohan Chand will portray Mowgli in Jungle Book: Origins. But it’s anyone’s guess how moviegoers will react to two different Jungle Book adaptations released so closely together.