Should the Success of The Jungle Book Lead to a TaleSpin Movie?

Baloo_and_Kit_TaleSpin

Fans are asking whether the better-than-expected success of Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book remake could lead to a live-action TaleSpin movie. Actually, they were asking before the new movie even opened. The daily cartoon series ran only a year, ending up with 65 episodes aired between 1990 and 1991, but like most things of that era it has developed a cult following.

It’s an interesting show. It was spun off from Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling stories, which was re-released in the summer of 1990. But the movie’s anthropomorphism is limited to animals being able to talk and have humanlike personalities. TaleSpin has many of the same characters, led by the bear Baloo, but they’re more humanoid. They wear (some) clothes and fly planes.

It’s also heavily inspired by Casablanca, the TV sitcom Cheers, and the Hayao Miyazaki manga “Hikotei Jidai” (Miyazaki adapted his own comic into the animated feature Porco Rossi, which the TaleSpin creators in turn believe bit off their show), as well as Disney’s hit adventure cartoon series DuckTales. Set in the 1930s (decades after the Jungle Book stories), it features Baloo as a bush pilot.

In place of Mowgli, the show introduced a young bear cub named Kit, who works with Baloo as his navigator. There’s also the addition of mother/daughter bears Rebecca and Molly Cunningham, the former being Baloo’s new boss after she buys out his air delivery business. The movie’s Shere Khan and Louie are here, too, as a powerful businessman and nite club owner, respectively.

The Jungle Book is getting a sequel, announced in advance of the remake’s opening. And director Jon Favreau has acknowledged the idea of a TaleSpin movie. In one interview he flat out stated a follow-up wouldn’t be based on any previous Jungle Book sequel or spinoff, including the cartoon series. But in another he said they could do TaleSpin with Bill Murray returning as Baloo.

He’s surely joking, but if the next installment does well, yes there could be genuine consideration given to TaleSpin, if only because there’s not much further they could go with the Jungle Book characters limited by their non-opposable thumbs and realistic jungle setting. But it would be weird. You can get away with a cartoon series spinoff being so different from its source. With movies, less so.

The question therefore isn’t whether the Jungle Book success could lead to a TaleSpin movie but whether it should. I’m all for there being more adventure movies set in that time period (especially if they keep pushing Indiana Jones forward rather than rebooting it) but why spend so much money for one where the characters have no reason to be lions and tigers and bears, etc.?

One issue is that the Jungle Book remake aims for such a degree of photorealistic representation of the animals that their anthropomorphism is minimal. It’d be a much bigger leap to evolve them into the characters of the cartoon. Baloo as he’s depicted in the new movie would look strange wearing a hat, jacket and scarf. And can you imagine such a realistic tiger standing upright in a suit?

Also — SPOILER ALERT — how do they explain Shere Khan’s return? And would they decrease the size of Louie or keep him as a giant primitive ape? Would he still wear a Hawaiian shirt? Would Favreau, if he’s involved, still be concerned with the authenticity? Because lions and red wolves aren’t natural neighbors of sloth bears and tigers. Never mind, because TaleSpin is set in a fictional world, not India!

There’s a detachment between the movie and the show that would confuse some moviegoers. TaleSpin would actually fit more in a shared universe with the eventual live-action remakes of Disney’s Robin Hood and Zootopia, if there was any interest in such a franchise that only crossed over in a historical sense since they’re each set in different eras. Or in a “Disney Afternoon” cinematic universe.

DuckTales, which was one of the original syndicated “Disney Afternoon” titles, is being rebooted for Disney XD starting next year, and if it’s a hit maybe that’s when we get a resurrection of TaleSpin, albeit first as another animated series (along with new Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck?). Going that route is the best strategy for Disney to lead up to a live-action version on the big screen.

Still, it’ll be tough to execute. For all the praise given to The Jungle Book with its computer-generated animals, that achievement has nothing on what will be required to do the same thing with more anthropomorphic characters for a live-action movie. They can’t be too faithful to their natural designs, but you also don’t want Baloo and Kit to look like Yogi and Boo Boo in 2010’s Yogi Bear.

It actually is easier to accept if there’s no interaction with human, as that movie and The Jungle Book do. And there’s also the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, which are introducing more crude-looking anthropomorphic beasts with this year’s sequel. Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy is a step in the right direction. Next step is to fill a whole movie with characters like that.

But then is it really a live-action movie after all? Is The Jungle Book live-action outside of featuring a real kid playing Mowgli? Shouldn’t a “live-action” version of TaleSpin therefore just be a really detailed computer-animated version? That’s where Disney is headed with its photorealistic scenery that blurs the line between something like The Good Dinosaur and The Jungle Book.

So maybe one day we can get a TaleSpin movie that’s as “realistic” as the fans want, which is merely enough that they’ll feel they could visit its world and interact with the talking, flying, shooting, pirating animals. Because when you’re in it you can win it in a minute when you spin it. Or something. But it shouldn’t be linked to The Jungle Book‘s success. Bill Murray can still voice Baloo, though.

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Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.