Saturday, October 22, 2016

Writing Lessons from Movies: The Jungle Book (1967) versus The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book is one of my favorite class stories. I've loved the concept of a boy raised by animals ever since I was a little kid, especially in the mysterious land of India. However, even from a young age Disney's The Jungle Book nor any other versions of the Jungle Book seemed to capture the essence I always wanted it to have. Something was always missing, but I didn't know what it is.

When I watched the 2016 version of the Jungle Book back in April, I was absolutely blown away. I knew in my heart this was a movie Rudyard Kipling would be proud of. The movie added in all of the elements I felt like were missing in past movies. This is by far my favorite version of this story. (If you want a full review you can just out my review of the film on Geeks Under Grace.) This movie has so many great story elements that I just have to have a blog posts dedicated to it. I made this a versus edition, because I want to show how this movie built on the original animated film. Let's jump right in!

1.) Turning The Protagonist from Passive to Active - In the 1967 version of the Jungle Book, Mowgli pretty much goes alone with whatever the other characters want. When the wolves say he should leave the jungle, though reluctant he does. When Bagheera says something, he listens most of the time. When Baloo and Kaa win him over, he does whatever they want. The most active character seems to be Bagheera, but he obviously isn't the main character, though he does seem to get Mowgli out of every scrape he gets himself into. Thus 1967 Mowgli is very passive. He doesn't push the story forward, he goes along with the flow of the story.

On the other hand, 2016 Mowgli chooses to leave the jungle despite his mother's protests. This had so much more power and made Mowgli a stronger and deeper character for he was willing to sacrifice his life in the jungle for them. Mowgli takes the initiative to finds Bagheera in the jungle when they're separated. Mowgli chooses to help Baloo with his honey collecting. Mowgli chooses to go back and fight Shere Kahn. The story doesn't control Mowgli, he moves the story. 

How this can be applied to writing: The best characters are those that move the story. They're the ones who make the big choices that in turn make the big changes. Is your main character passive or active?

This moment made me almost cry it was so touching.
2.) Giving a Blank Character a Personality - In the 1967 version, Mowgli doesn't have much of a personality. He's a typical child, who just wants to live in the jungle. There wasn't anything particularly special about him.

In the 2016 version, Mowgli has much more of a personality. His knack for making things like rope and knives from rocks gave him a hobby. He's also a cheery kid with a good heart and wants to please others. I felt far more bonded to this new Mowgli than the old one. I care much more about what happened to him because he felt more like a real person.

How this can be applied to writing: Does your character feel dull and like you can't relate to him? A great way to fix that is to give him/her hobbies, unusual features, and fears. This will add more dimension to your character.

3.) Giving Side Characters and Antagonist Deeper Traits to Justify Their Actions - In the 1967 version, the side characters such as Baloo, Bagheera, and the wolves had goals, but they seemed stiff and times and one dimensional. You never really bonded with the wolves in this version. They raised Mowgli for two seconds and then it was moving on. Baloo was a care free guy that just seemed against Bagheera at every whim. Bagheera just wanted to take care of Mowgli. Shere Kahn wanted to kill Mowgli just cause he doesn't like man for some reason.

In the 2016 version, the wolves are given far more depth, especially with Raksha and Grey. Grey is the runt and innocent. Raksha is passionate about caring for her son, but also a upholder of wolf culture. Bagheera is made to be more wise and a strong follower of tradition. Baloo comes off as lazy and a bit of a conman. Shere Kahn is bent on revenge because he was injured by a man in the past. Each of these characters have better defined personalities and therefore make you care about them more and they make more sense.

Shere Kahn hates Mowgli because his experiences. Baloo wants to sweep Mowgli away with his songs and philosophy because he needs someone to get him honey, because he's a afraid of heights. Bagheera is so insistent on Mowgli being like a wolf because he's so grounded in his traditions.

How this can be applied to writing: Side characters need almost as much development as main characters. Don't forget to give them goals, fears, and desires just like any person would have. 

4.) Making Events Flow Together  - In the 1967 version, the events Mowgli encountered seemed like a random string of events just to have Mowgli have stuff to do. In the 2016 version, each event transitions well into the other from encountering Kaa to meeting Baloo to King Louie to the climax each event transitions well. Mowgli leaves the wolves where he encounters Shere Kahn in the plain which forces him to travel on the water buffalo where he encounters a mudslide which makes him go to Kaa where he is saved by Baloo. Do you see how each one has a clear transition? Each one rolls into the other all pointing him toward the end goal which is the climax and Mowgli's decision to stay in the jungle. 

How this can be applied to writing: Obstacles are very important for a character to have. It's what makes a story important, but make sure each one is pointing to the end goal and each one flows well into the other. 

5.) An Authentic Setting - This is a bit of a nitpicky thing, but it comes with accuracy of research. In the 1967 version many of the animals used in this were African. The monkeys were African as well as Kaa. This didn't allow for the full effect of the unusual setting of India. In the 2016 version, the director took advantage of the vivid and unusual wildlife of India like pangolins, jerboas, and civets. They made Baloo into a region specific sloth bear and Kaa into a region specific Reticulated Python which is realistically the only python on earth that can grow to be even close to that size. This not only made the movie more accurate, but also made it more unique. 

Yes, the African animals are more familiar. Yes, a lot of people won't notice. But overall it makes the effect of the world feel more real. 

How this can be applied to writing: Authenticity provides a sense of realism that only it can grant. Yes, it may be tougher to research those more unusual and less commonly known settings, but in the end your story will be more unique for it.

Conclusion - Yes, the animated version of the Jungle Book will always be a classic, but the live action 2016 Jungle Book will always in my eyes be a masterpiece in writing.

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