The Jungle Book: Evolving Representations of Masculinity

Curator's Note

In an effort to advance the discourse surrounding adaptation, film theorist Dudley Andrew stated that “It will no longer do to let theorists settle things with a priori arguments. We need to study films themselves as acts of discourse” (Andrew, p. 332). Applying this theory to the rise of the Disney challenges us to consider the benefits of retelling stories throughout the decades instead of merely judging an adaptation based on the fidelity to the original story.

The Jungle Book (1967 & 2016) serves as a specific case study as adventures, lessons, and role models introduce Mowgli into a world where he must choose to become a “civilized man” (akin to societal masculinity) or continue to live in the jungle (his natural masculinity). 

In the 1967 version he is afforded less agency when it comes to controlling those “masculine” traits than in the remake. He exhibits a range of masculine traits, from compassion to carelessness to anger, but there is an obvious “winner” that will lead him to the defeat of Shere Khan. He uses fire from a lightning strike to scare away Shere Khan, and his draw to the “man village” signifies his adoption of traditional male roles. Baloo states that “he couldn’t help himself.” This suggests that this acceptance of established male roles is not a choice, but is inevitable.

In the 2016 version, Mowgli chooses to find “the red flower” to confront the enemy, and with torch in hand he rushes up the hill, where his friends shrink away from him as they watch the jungle burn. Realizing this, Shere Khan taunts him: “Always a proud day when they come of age. I saw what you would become.” Mowgli comes to his senses, and he extinguishes the flame as a sign that he won’t participate in toxic behavior any longer. It is through his adoption of positive characteristics that he is able to outsmart Shere Khan, and he chooses to stay in the jungle. The most important individual that he had control over in that instance was himself, a trait afforded to him only in the remake.

These similarities and differences between the movies reflect the society from which they came from. As the representations of male and female characters are accurate and encourage beneficial behaviors, children of every gender will find it easier to live lives that are selfless and fulfilling without compromising influence and agency.


Works Cited

Andrew, Dudley. Concepts in Film Theory. Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 330–339.

Favreau, Jon. The Jungle Book. Disney, 2016.

Reitherman, Wolfgang. The Jungle Book. Disney, 1967.

Wooden, Shannon R., and Ken Gillam. Pixar’s Boy Stories : Masculinity in a Postmodern Age. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.


Hannah (if I may), thank you for sharing your thought-provoking perspective. As you might imagine, if you've seen my post on the Dalmatians films, I am very supportive of your interest in comparative historicization of the original and remake. I could ask many questions were there more space and time! Eager to view your work as a filmmaker.

I think that I would like to know more about your theoretical frame, so I'll ask two questions (if you have time). Taking the quote from Dudley Andrew as a point of departure, as you did, I am wondering which of the plentiful film theories and close readings of filmic texts from recent decades (i.e. since Andrew published those words in the 1980s) you find useful as a point of entry into considering the remake as a category?

My other question is a bit selfish, I suppose (the Woodley and Gillam book has been moving up the queue in my reading list, and you are helping me indirectly to decide whether to move it right to the top). How exactly do their ideas fit into your analysis here? Are you using the term "agency" in a way that was inspired by their work?

Most importantly, I think that you are really onto something as a critic and I hope that you will share more. --Carolyn

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