How Disney's New 'Jungle Book' Can Overcome Book's Racist Baggage
King Louie of the Apes, right, in 'The Jungle Book,' 1967 (Everett Collection/Walt Disney Studios)
Both Rudyard Kipling's original book, which was written from a British colonialist perspective, and Disney's own animated adaptation have long been slammed for having racist overtones. If the studio hopes to overcome these perceptions and offer up a 21st century-friendly rendition this go-round, it'll take a whole lot more work than just punching up the old material with snazzy costumes and new-age visual effects.
"One of the main reasons that 'The Jungle Book' needs to be rebooted is to fix the things that became controversial not long after it was released in 1967," Robert Thompson, pop culture expert and media professor at Syracuse University, tells Yahoo Movies.
By giving the green light to the new incarnation, hiring Jon Favreau to direct, and tapping a diverse group of A-listers to star – recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") and Scarlett Johansson ("Avengers: Age of Ultron") are in talks to join Idris Elba ("Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom") on the developing cast list – Thompson suspects Disney is up to the task and must believe the material "is salvageable."
So, what are some of the "Bare Necessities" of a "Jungle Book" overhaul?
"The first Disney 'Jungle Book' was based on Kipling; the next one will be based on the movie, so it'll be another generation removed from Kipling, which will help," Thompson says.
Stepping away from Kipling's imperialist vision is, however, just the beginning, especially since it was one of the House of Mouse's own story concoctions which caused the most discontent over their first adaptation.
The cartoon's King Louie (which did not stem from the pages of Kipling's original) was a jazzy ape whose language skills were considered much less refined than those of the film's other animals and who sang "I Wanna Be Like You" to the orphaned human boy Mowgli. The character is widely panned as exemplifying "negative racial stereotyping" and connoting inequality between African-Americans and Caucasians.