Sunday, 9 October 2016

Archetypes: The Jungle Book

When it was announced that Jon Favreau was making 'The Jungle Book' (2016), a live action/CG adaption of Rudyard Kipling's books based on the 1967 Disney animated classic, people expected the worst. Many felt, "what on earth is the point of remaking Walt Disney's great and possibly greatest masterpiece, the glorious animated musical from 1967...famously the last film to get Disney's personal touch," (Bradshaw, 2016). During the time of The Jungle Book's release Disney was (and still is), disappointingly, recycling old classics instead of focusing on new stories.

Fig 1. 'The Jungle Book' (2016)

However, The Jungle Book is no regular adaptation. This became apparent once trailers and TV spots of the film began to surface. Amazingly, the film seems to achieve Hyperreal CGI animals without falling into the dreadful Uncanny Valley. The only real actor in this film is Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the rest of the cast, environments, props, and anything else was made using CGI. Shockingly, the whole film was shot in Downtown Los Angeles in a 12-story building.

This new Jungle Book has a very similar plot as the 1967 animation and, to the delight of many, showcased some of the songs from the original including 'The Bear Necessities'. The Jungle Book's story is an easy one to follow, Mowgli is a young human boy raised by wolves in the jungle. His life is threatened by the tiger Shere Khan, who swears to kill the boy. From here Mowgli attempts to re-enter the world of Man, but encountering many obstacles he chooses that the jungle is his home. He faces Shere Khan and defeats him, allowing all the creatures in the jungle (including him) to live in peace.

The Jungle Book quite visibly uses The Hero's Journey formula, "pulling freely from Kipling's stories, Disney's own animated treatment, and the inventions of screenwriter Justin Marks, this 'Jungle Book' certainly imposes a bit more of a strict hero's-journey framework... yet rarely does it lapse into the seriousness that tends to sour so many aggressively modernised fairy stories," (Barker, 2016). Perhaps this lack of 'sourness' is due to the characters being talking CGI animals. Despite this, it is also easy to spot the different archetypes scattered within the film.

It is obvious that Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is the Hero. The story revolves around him and his adventure. He encounters many struggles and obstacles, but eventually defeats them and restores harmony. His role is even more obvious as he goes from being called a 'man-cub' to becoming a 'man' after he discovers how to use fire, signifying his personal growth. Mowgli's journey begins when Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a Bengal tiger, vows to kill him once the Water Truce ends. The drought/Water Truce could be considered The Herald because once the rains return, Mowgli has no option but to leave the jungle.

Fig 2. Shere Khan
There is no doubt that Shere Khan is The Shadow. He isn't satisfied with Mowgli simply leaving the jungle or somehow dying. The tiger wants to be the one who kills the boy, and will eliminate anyone who gets in his way. This includes the alpha male of Mowgli's wolf pack, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Naturally the alpha male of the wolf pack fills the role of The Father, Akela's character is strong, protective, and powerful. This makes his demise even more impactful as it shows that even Akela wasn't strong enough to fight the tiger.

The rest of the wolves are in dismay, especially Mowgli's adoptive mother, Raksha (Lupita Nyong). Raksha takes on the archetype of The Mother, being nurturing, caring and protective of Mowgli and her other pups. Raksha's other pups (Mowgli's 'siblings) fill the role of The Child. The pups do not fully understand Shere Khan's malice, and play between his paws until Raksha calls them away. One of the pups, Grey (Brighton Rose), asks why Mowgli had to leave as he is too innocent to fully understand that he could not stay.

Luckily for Mowgli, the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) helps him try to reach the Man Village safely. Ever since Shere Khan initially tried to kill Mowgli years ago (after killing Mowgli's real father), Bagheera has been looking out for him and teaching him the ways of the jungle. He tries to help teach the human how to hunt like the wolves so he can fit in and survive. When it is time for Mowgli to leave the jungle, he guides him towards the Man Village and does his best to fight off Shere Khan. This shows that Bagheera is The Mentor, doing all he can to teach and aid the protagonist any way he can.

However, Bagheera cannot protect Mowgli from everything. When he is separated from the panther, he encounters a seductive python called Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) tries to eat him. Kaa is a Threshold Guardian, she prevents Mowgli from progressing on his journey. However, she is eventually defeated by the bear, Baloo (Bill Murray) who goes on to save the boy. Being The Shapeshifter (and possibly Trickster), Baloo initially only saved Mowgli so he could con the boy into getting him honeycomb. As time passes, though, the bear warms up to the human and they become friends.

This temporarily shifts again when Baloo lies to Mowgli, saying that he 'does not want him around anymore'. This was with good intentions as Bagheera and Baloo were trying to get the boy to go to the Man Village, safely away from Shere Khan. However, this attempt gets ruined when Mowgli gets abducted by a group of monkeys. The monkeys take Mowgli to the Gigantopithecus (a now extinct type of ape), King Louie (Christopher Walken). Like Kaa, King Louie is a Threshold Guardian, temporarily preventing the hero from progressing. Baloo and Bagheera come to Mowgli's rescue, but upon discovering Akela's death Mowgli decides to face Shere Khan and defend his home. With the help of his allies, he is able to defeat the tiger and restore peace to the jungle.

Fig 3. Allies
Wether or not film critics or the general public like this film, no one should turn a blind eye to the amount of time and effort that went into its making. Yes it is technically a recycled story, but the visuals are stunning and the voice acting is spot-on, making the familiar tale feel fresh. It is evident that the creation of this film was a monumental task and had an impressive outcome. When the credits begin to roll, it would be an insult to not sit through them all. The lists of people who worked on special effects, visual effects, and animation seems endless and they deserve appreciation. "The result is one of the most visually sumptuous blockbusters this side of Avatar...a photo-realistic world demands a photo realistic populace, and here Favreau doesn't disappoint, filling his jungles with wolves, tigers and bears that look like they've stumbled into the film from a National Geographic doc...The CG cast will undoubtedly be the focal point - it's hard to take your eyes off them," (Hewitt, 2016).

Barker, A. (2016) Film Review: 'The Jungle Book' At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Bradshaw, P. (2016) The Jungle Book review - spectacular revival of Disney's family favourite At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Dargis, M (2016) Review: Recycled 'Jungle Book' Puts a Real Boy in a Forest of Pixels At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Hewitt, C. (2016) The Jungle Book Review At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Orr, C. (2016) The Jungle Book: A Heartfelt Visual Marvel At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Zacharek, S. (2016) Review: Jon Favreau's Jungle Book Is a Wild Tale for a Digital Age At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Jungle Book [Poster] At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016
Figure 2. Shere Khan [Film Still] At: Accessed on 09/10/2016
Figure 3. Allies [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 09/10/2016

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