Film Review: “The Jungle Book” Raises the Bar for Live-Action Remakes With a Deceptively Deep Message

The Jungle Book Review

The Jungle Book isn’t foreign to most of us. We’ve all either read Rudyard Kipling’s novels or at the very least, grew up on Disney’s 1967 classic animated adaptation of Kipling’s work based on Mowgli, the man-cub raised in the wild by a pack of wolves. Since then there have been a few re-imaginings, including the studio’s live-action remake in 1994, which is honestly better off forgotten, and a few other erroneous adaptations that failed to capture the essence of Kipling’s fantastical jungle. It’s why I was initially skeptical when news broke that Disney was gearing up for another retelling, especially when Warner Bros. announced their own adaptation (that would later be slated for a 2018 release). It seemed like a bit of an overkill.

But now that The Jungle Book is finally swinging into theaters, Jon Favreau has quelled all doubt on whether or not he could properly frame Kipling’s narrative with timely themes and stunning visual effects. 10-year-old Neel Sethi breaks into the scene as the jubilant young Mowgli, a resourceful orphan running wild with a pack of wolves. Under the watchful guidance of a vigilant black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and his parents Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), Mowgli nears manhood struggling with his inherent human capabilities and a jungle that doesn’t fully accept him. Tensions flare when Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a fierce lion with an axe to grind against man, warns the rest of the animals that humans are dangerous and will destroy their way of life – using the scar on his face as proof.

With the jungle suffering a severe drought, everyone’s agreed to a truce on Peace Rock that must be protected until the rain returns; however, Shere Kahn warns Akela and his pack that once water flows again, nothing will stop him from tearing the outsider to shreds and all those that get in his way. This promise divides the wolves as rain pours and forces Mowgli to make a decision – leave the pack and protect his family. Bagheera guides Mowgli out of the jungle and towards human civilization but not before Shere Khan attacks separating the two and Mowgli nearly escaping with his life. The rest of Mowgli’s journey includes all the familiar faces from the famed story, including Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), King Louie (Christopher Walken), and the fun-loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray).

Favreau’s adaptation is expectedly dark and mature, but not without emphasis on hope and community. Kids will enjoy The Jungle Book‘s adventure, while the rest of us can enjoy the film’s deceptively deep themes about fear, acceptance, and relationships. Favreau, his cast, and crew do an excellent job of bringing real consequence to the jungle that Disney’s animated film understandably shied away from. Lives are at stake, habitats in peril, and dastardly motives in motion – all unresolvable by mere happenstance. For better or worse, situations are addressed head on. But despite the decidedly grown thematic elements, The Jungle Book pays tribute to the original story with musical selections, a complementary juxtaposition between old and new. There’s a few parallels from other Disney classics as well, including The Lion King, which shares similar plot devices involving a stampede and the menacing antagonist Scar.

Much of the recognition goes towards Favreau’s eclectic cast, most notably Bill Murray and Idris Elba. With a seamless blend of CGI and motion capture, Elba delivers one of the finest villainous performances I’ve seen in years. Shere Khan isn’t a simple-minded foe – he’s cunning, ambitious, and not afraid to look “the Red Flower” (fire) in the face. He’s a jacked-up, angrier version of Scar with lethal strength to combat all those who interfere. And Murray’s Baloo is an infectiously good time.

The Jungle Book presents an entirely engrossing, emotionally compelling, and palpable world of species of all kinds. Every character, small or large, is given a story. The mighty elephants, for example, are viewed as royal creators of the jungle by the rest of the inhabitants. Bagheera teaches Mowgli the origins of the jungle, which, thanks to the elephants’ sheer size and power, has flourished into what we see today. Of course there’s the surface-level sentiment regarding man’s destruction of natural resources, but there’s also an insightful exploration of the damaging effects that hateful rhetoric has on communities in healing.

Disney and Favreau clearly have the upper hand on Warner Bros. and their Jungle Book director Andy Serkis. That’s just the nature of the beast when one film releases before another. But it’s not even about comparisons and infamous studio rivalry. The Jungle Book is one hell of a moviegoing experience, and a huge win for the filmmakers and fans.

Photo Credit: Disney

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Source: The Stashed