After Mowgli’s father is killed by Shere Khan, the ‘man cub’ Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and taken to be raised by a wolf pack in the Indian jungle. Here, he is raised as part of the pack and made to feel as part of family by his wolf parents, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Espositio). But Mowgli’s life is in peril by the bloodthirsty, brutal and man-eating tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). With the help and support of his mentor and friend Bagheera and loyal friend Baloo (Bill Murray), he must find the will to accept his destiny to defeat the tyrannous tiger for good.
Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel was adapted by Disney in the much-loved 1967 Disney animation. Director, Jon Favreau (Iron Man) has given the tale his own touch, mixing CGI and live-action filmmaking. On his quest, Mowgli experiences the savagery of the jungle and how everyone seems to have his best interests at heart. But also, he sees that people…or animals aren’t always what they seem as we see with Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (Christopher Walken).
Jon Favreau has taken on the story wonderfully, and I believe that this is the remake we’ve all been looking for, after much anticipation or resentment, depending on which side of the fence you were on. He’s remained close to the orignal story as well as the Disney animation. In doing this, he’s kept the original fans happy and created new ones too. He’s created this vast CGI world riddled with breadth, fantastical landscapes and wonder. Having watched the movie in both 2D and 3D formats, I much preferred it in the latter because it was easy to get lost in the tale and story because it felt like you were physically there with all the characters.
This is Neel Sethi’s breakout role and he excels as the naive, humourous and likeable man cub. Mowgli is very cocky and thinks he already knows the world, as we see in many scenes between him and Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera, in relation to when he is facing off against sociopathic tigers and singing with honey-loving sloth bears. I think that both the animated and live-action adaptations of The Jungle Book are rites of passage movies. On his journey, Mowgli learns humility, patience and a little of what it means to live. You don’t get for nothing. Most things come with a price and the jungle is a dangerous place. He also learns of the real meaning of his wolf pack’s motto. Or as Baloo loves to call it, propaganda.
The CGI used to create the animals and the landscapes is truly something special. It’s spectacular, and the striking visual effects take your breath away. All this money pumped into the CGI would be nul and void if there wasn’t any character development. Thankfully, the screenplay was out of this world. It added real originality to each character and that’s something that was less evident in the animated movie. The animated movie was a fun flick made for children but I think this version is darker, scarier and more original than its predecessor. The writer, Justin Marks has fleshed out every character into something more realistic. They have their own ideologies, desires, motivations and identities. We have Shere Khan’s unfathomable hatred of humanity, Raksha’s love of family with Bagheera’s pragmatism and respect (bowing to Elephants) to name a few.
Lupita Nyongo’s (12 Years A Slave) Raksha is the best of the bunch. Despite Mowgli being a man cub, she raised him as her own cub and she sees him as her son. She delivers a lot of dialogue in relation to family and it’s very heartwarming and emotional to hear with her enigmatic passion. The Jungle Book is incredibly dark and I’d say it’s a borderline PG-13 certificate. In both my 2D and 3D screenings, I had children crying and whining from the shere terror instilled in them from scenes with Kaa, Shere Khan and even Christopher Walken’s King Louie. All three characters frightened me and I forgot I was watching a Disney movie many a time.
The brief stint in the movie when Mowgli encounters Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), I felt like all the happiness had been drained from me. The forest was akin to that of Mirkwood in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy or even The Forest Of Fanghorn in Lord Of The Rings. The dark and gritty aura felt very alike to these two fictional environments. Then Kaa’s voice would echo around the forest. It was sweet, scary yet alluring and seductive due to the vocal talents of Scarlett Johansson (Age Of Ultron). Then she began to sing the famous “Trust In Me” song still in the alluring voice, and she hit it out of the park. Her eyes began to flicker and change colour as she was talking. The eyes changing color as the camera closes in on Kaa’s face was really creepy and it even sucked me in. You’d focus on the voice and that’s when Scar-Jo’s Kaa would get you.
Other than characters at the beginning of the film, everyone claims to have Mowgli’s interests at heart. To begin with, the fun and humourous Baloo uses Mowgli to acquire honey. He doesn’t really care about him but we see that this changes throughout the film. Kaa sees Mowgli as an easy meal, and King Louie sees that Mowgli is of man thus thinking that he can create the Red Flower. The Red Flower is jungle lingo for fire. Louie wants everything for himself and likes to use people (animals) for his own means. Walken’s voice booms from the shadows and he gives a great rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” too. His iconic voice resonates really well with materialistic Louie. What I didn’t like about Louie is how big he was. I think he was unnecessarily huge, but I guess that was so to show how dominant he was over Mowgli and his legions of monkeys.
I mentioned there are many scary moments throughout the movie and this brings me onto my next point, the film’s antagonist Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Our striped friend is truly majestic to look at and Idris Elba’s deep, dominant and commanding voice as the tiger is a force to be reckoned with. He rules by fear and intimidation by killing anyone who gets in his way or just to send a message. He kills at will and enjoys doing it. Having Mowgli go to the man village isn’t enough. He wants him dead and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goal. Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation) plays this sociopathic killing machine to perfection. It’s truly haunting. Khan represents the darkest parts of life in the jungle and how your imperfections and will to succeed can alienate yourself from those around you. To succeed isn’t always a good thing. Even when you win, you lose.
The Jungle Book is an excellent movie that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. There are numerous themes and messages told, that all types of audiences can understand. There are lessons to be learned like having respect for the powers of nature and the people (animals) in your communities and society. It’s okay to be different and not to fit in to the established order. You shouldn’t scorn someone for being what they are based on society’s already established norms. Being different is a good thing; regardless of creed, sex, race and even whether you walk on two legs or four.
In conclusion this is an outstanding film with my only negative point being about gigantic size of King Louie. The visual effects are excellent and the cast is stellar. Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book is a fantastic movie with strong messages, themes and good for audiences of all ages. There is a lot of darkness to the movie that will be quite shocking to young viewers. But for the older viewers who grew up with the animated movie, it’s a dream come true. Favreau’s version of the story takes The Jungle Book to new heights with great voice performances, a thought-provoking plot and this will be film that will be a classic to this new generation of fans.