Last Friday, I finally got to see Disney’s new live action remake of The Jungle Book. I’ll admit that while I love all Disney animated classics, The Jungle Book isn’t one that instantly jumps out at me as one of my all-time favourites, but it is a movie I enjoy watching now and again, mainly for the memorable soundtrack. So, major spoilers aside, what did I expect from the new blockbuster live action retelling?
Firstly; the story has been expanded from the original animation, and the overall plot is much better for it. We do find out how Mowgli came to be in the jungle, there is more mythology (such as history and certain laws) added to the jungle’s background and the wolves who adopted Mowgli into their pack (led by Akela and Raksha) get deservingly increased screen time. It’s not a shot-for-shot remake of the 1967 animation. Even the ending is different, so you won’t be wasting your time watching a movie you’ve already seen. But with expanded story, comes deeper, and much darker themes. If you thought this was a story for young children, you would unfortunately be mistaken. Without giving too much away, some scenes in the movie are heavily emotional, and also genuinely frightening, even as an adult viewer. Myself and my friend watched in 2D, so we didn’t get the full-on gigantic 3D IMAX snake hissing in your face treatment, but we got as much of it as our nerves could handle, which was more than enough creepiness for one “family-friendly” Disney movie!
One of the best things I personally liked about the movie is the character of Mowgli, the main young protagonist himself. Neel Sethi is one talented boy, and simply IS the real-life Mowgli, both in looks and personality. He’s the man-cub who tries so hard to fit into the Jungle Law despite knowing he doesn’t belong, and he is genuinely passionate for the jungle and all its creatures, big and small. This movie added to his 1967 counterpart by giving him a talent of his own; Mowgli creates and uses what he calls “tricks”; somewhat brilliant inventions he builds to help make jungle-living easier for himself and those around him. Bagheera and Akela often prevent Mowgli from using “tricks” in front of the other animals, as the animals are scared that one day, one of these “tricks” will be obtaining the “Red Flower”; this is what they call fire, and of course, fire + jungle = tragedy. This, in turn, further isolates Mowgli from the pack. I believe Mowgli is quite a relatable underdog character for many people, which is why he’s so likable. You just want him to find his place amongst his jungle family and friends, and to best all hardships that are thrown his way.
The secondary protagonist and narrator of this movie comes from Mowgli’s mentor, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a panther who loves and cares Mowgli almost as if he were his own son ever after finding him as a toddler, even if his stern authoritative personality doesn’t always let it show. Comic relief in this movie, just like the animation, comes from the lovable, huggable singing bear himself, Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) who definitely got given the wittiest, laughable lines of the script. What about King Louie, you ask? Well… Louie (Christopher Walken) is now more of a secondary antagonist. Sure, he sings… But he’s also a huge greedy Gigantopithecus who just wants the “Red Flower” in order for all to fear and obey him, which is obviously the same ambition that he had in the animation as a slightly smaller (and cuter) Orangutan, but Gigantopithecus Louie sure is a lot more powerful, demanding and frightening. Another secondary antagonist is Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), who is now one incredibly huge snake who tries to eat Mowgli, although you could just put that down to her sizzling snake nature. The main brutal antagonist is Shere Khan (Idris Elba), the infamous brutal tiger himself, who is, at the very least, 100 times more evil, wicked and vile in this movie than he was in the 1967 original.
I’m so glad that the producers included re-workings of the Sherman Brothers/Terry Gilkyson songs “Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” in the movie. Despite the plot not being “Broadway musical” tone in the slightest, both songs are a loving homage to the original 1967 animation that made the songs famous, and they are very welcome to be there. Other music included from the original is the overture theme and “Trust In Me” which is featured in the credits. And wow, without saying too much, the credits are wonderful. If you do see the movie in the cinema, please do yourself a massive favour and stick through the credits; you won’t be disappointed!
On another production note, I have to congratulate how breath-taking the CGI is in this movie. The scenery, the animal characters… They all look so real. And not only do they look real, the feel of the movie really pulls you into the world of The Jungle Book like no other. Sitting in the cinema, you truly forget where you are as you’re whisked away in the primal atmosphere. The suspense, the adventure, the ever-lurking danger… You really do feel all of it. Oh, and bonus points go to the team for creating the most ADORABLE wolf cubs you will ever see. Ever. I literally only have two disappointments with this movie: a) Kaa didn’t get nearly enough screen time and b) I couldn’t take one of the wolf cubs home with me.