Trailer Talk – The Jungle Book

Continuing their recent their classic animated films into live-action movies—Maleficent, Cinderella, the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, and the reported The Little Mermaid—Disney today released the first trailer for their latest incarnation of The Jungle Book. That trailer is below.

The trailer’s main selling-point is that the filmmakers are “bringing the adventure to life,” but are they really? It may not be hand-drawn animation through and through like the jazz-scored, family favorite from 1967, but this new film does appear to be wall-to-wall or, rather, vine-to-vine CGI. I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing by any means. I do think we need a new way to describe these kinds of movies though. The recent Hobbit trilogy first made me realize that when we watch these CGI-heavy movies, we’re not watching live-action, and we’re not watching animation either. We’re watching something else entirely, and we don’t have a name for it yet.

The trailer’s other main selling-point is the idea that The Jungle Book is about identity. Scarlett Johanson’s “Kaa” tempts Mowgli with the opportunity to find out “what” he is and “where” he comes from. This theme is present in Rudyard Kipling’s original story and in the 1967 animated film as well, though their method of “how” Mowgli figures those things out seems very different than that of this new film.

Kipling one of the most celebrated of the Modernist writers. Modernism was birthed in part by Darwin’s Origin of the Species, the take-away being that the truth of anything is rooted in its source in nature. In Kipling’s The Jungle Book, little Mowgli, lost in the jungle, has many conversations with primal animals that help him figure out who he is. The story is about relating to primitive intelligence to transcend that primitive intelligence and enter a new “human” reality. The story is about thinking more than doing. Take, for example, this passage from the book, the “Maxims of Baloo,” that are meant to teach young ones their place in the world:

His spots are the joy of the Leopard: his horns are the
        Buffalo’s pride.
     Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is known by the
        gloss of his hide.
     If ye find that the Bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed
        Sambhur can gore;
     Ye need not stop work to inform us: we knew it ten seasons
     Oppress not the cubs of the stranger, but hail them as Sister
        and Brother,
     For though they are little and fubsy, it may be the Bear is
        their mother.
     “There is none like to me!” says the Cub in the pride of his
        earliest kill;
     But the jungle is large and the Cub he is small.  Let him

        think and be still.
                                 Maxims of Baloo

Since truth lies with what is “original,” age is to be respected. Knowledge is old. Young ones should listen to the older ones. Young ones should be humble, pensive, and still in light of their newness in the world.

Contrast that with the action-heavy trailer for Disney’s new The Jungle Book, and it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the conversational original. We are a society that values action over contemplation, youth over age, and the future over the past. Of course, we’d make a Jungle Book that’s all chase scenes and CGI with just enough nostalgia to make us think it will make us feel young again. According to the press release, “The Jungle Book seamlessly blends live-action with photorealistic CGI animals and environments, using up-to-the-minute technology and storytelling techniques to immerse audiences in an enchanting and lush world. The wild adventure swings into theaters in 3D on April 15, 2016.”