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Apr 30, 2014 05:15 PM EDT

Syracuse Professor Hopes The Two Upcoming 'Jungle Book' Remakes Right The Racism From 1967 Cartoon


Media professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse believes the 1967 cartoon movie, "The Jungle Book," was racist, Campus Reform reported. Specifically, Thompson points to the scene in which King Louie of the Apes sings "I Wanna Be Like You" to Mowgli. Louie sings and trumpets in the blues style favored by black musicians of the day like Louie Armstrong while professing to Mowgli (who Thompson says symbolizes the white race) that he wants to be more like him.

But many have accused the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's 1890s novel of having racial overtones. Thompson's recent comments to Yahoo! movies are noteworthy, however, because of the upcoming remakes of the film (one for 2015, the other unknown) and perhaps even because of Donald Sterling's lifetime ban from the NBA for a recording of a racially fueled conversation he had with his girlfriend.

"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," Thompson told Yahoo.

I'm a little confused. "The Jungle Book" was already re-made in 1994, starring Cary Elwes (best known for the "Princess Bride"). That version, like the upcoming one to be directed by Jon Favreau ("Iron Man," "Chef") as well as the one to be directed by Andy Serkis ("Lord of the Rings," "Planet of the Apes"), was live-action. Elwes and company apparently didn't right the animated wrongs perceived by Thompson and others. Why should Favreau and Serkis' be any different?

Technology could help. In the 1994 version, the animals didn't talk. Today, the directors will almost certainly have them re-created digitially (while also being played by an actor) in the same manner as the latest "Planet of the Apes." Serkis, who played the main ape, Caesar, to critical acclaim in "Apes," already has experience in the area. The technique might allow for enough tinkering to re-establish the character of Louie and others.

The best way fix the things of which Thompson speaks is to produce a digital re-make of the movie. But that would be absurd -- as far as I know, a cartoon has never been re-made into another cartoon/animated picture. In light of its history, the "Jungle Book" would have been the perfect movie to break that precedent, except it'll have to wait at least a decade for fans to forget about the most recent versions.

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