Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Marks
Stars: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o
The Jungle Book is a classic tale. As I child, I enjoyed reading the illustrated book. Since then I’ve watched three of the Jungle Book movies released and none of them were my favorite. I never cared much for the kiddy lines, cardboard characters, or the inaccurate animals used. But my childhood fascination of the Indian jungle drew me to watch this film, and I’m so glad I did.
Violence/Scary Images: This version is by far the most gritty telling of this story I’ve seen. The writers portrayed the savage nature of the jungle for what it really is. Shere Khan murders a wolf and a man, and he has some potentially scary scars that could bother young children. Another character dies when he is crushed by a building. The animals get into grueling clawing and biting fights where they sustain injuries though most are masked by fur. Mowgli is scratched, stung, bruised, and has multiple old scars as you’d think a young child living in the jungle would endure. Multiple sequences of peril during natural disasters could be intense for younger viewers. There are a number of jump scares that had me lurching in my seat. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to children under eight years old and even that’s pushing it a little.
Language/Crude Humor: No language nor notable crude humor which was a welcome relief for a kid’s film.
Spiritual Content: There are some brief nods to Hindu culture such as the Hindu temple King Louie resides in or the mythology about elephants being gods of the jungle whom other jungle residents should be bow to. Kaa uses hypnotism to trap Mowgli.
Sexual Content: There isn’t any really unless you’re bothered by a mostly naked twelve year old running around.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: None of note.
Other Negative Content: Baloo, King Louie, and Kaa try to take advantage of Mowgli, plus Shere Khan is by far the scariest version I’ve seen him as.
Positive Content: The main reason why this is my favorite version of the Jungle Book is the character development. There are some fantastic arcs of self-discovery and some touching acts of self sacrifice. Mowgli is no longer the passive protagonist in the Disney animated version. He is clever and loves to help others. While the wolves debated on what to do after Shere Khan threatened to kill Mowgli, instead of waiting for a decision, Mowgli approached the wolves and told them he would leave to keep them all safe. This scene hit me at his sacrifice. He willingly decided to give up the only life he knew if that meant his family was unharmed. This is just one of the many touching moments of bravery, love, and integrity you seen in this film.
Young Mowgli is a man yet a pack of wolves in the wilderness of India raised him. For his entire life, he has tried to forsake his tendency for human “tricks” and learn the wolf’s way. After a drought, the lack of water forces the animals to the dwindling main water source drawing out all species of creatures: buffalo, jerboa, porcupines, and a certain tiger named Shere Khan. The mighty jungle cat orders that Mowgli be killed in fear that the innocent child will grow into a dangerous man. To protect his family, Mowgli chooses to leave the only family he’s ever known and journey with Bagheera to the man village. But Shere Khan catches wind and attempts to stop them, separating Mowgli from his protector. Now the child must journey through the jungle alone to return to his people.
Prepare yourself before going into the theaters. This is nothing like the former cinematic versions of this story. Disney’s adaptions from 1967, 1994, and 1998 all had a goofy feel from the music to the dialogue to the songs. The book conveyed an entirely different tone of mystery and danger, I’ve hoped to see in film. This version doesn’t sugarcoat the wild nature of the Indian jungle. I felt a strong sense of wonder at the beautiful scenery and the vast array of native Indian animals not previously shown like pangolin, gibbons, mongoose (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, anyone?), cape porcupine, and civets.
Because of the limitations of animal training, we were never able to see this part of the world in its full glory and often African animals were used instead of actual Asian ones (which as a child who got World Explorer cards every month and memorized them all miffed me to no end). CGI has opened up doors. All of the animals are realistically animated and often you forget that they’re not real. Baloo is an actual native Asian bear called a Sloth Bear and Kaa is a Reticulated Python (the only snake on the planet that can actually grow close to Kaa’s size) to increase authenticity. The animal lover in me was having a field day. The only thing that wasn’t authentically Asian was for some reason they used African elephants instead of Asian elephants. Perhaps because the form is larger.
Animal geek aside, the characters were far more complex than any other version. Neel Shethi is Mowgli. He did a fantastic job as the protagonist. By the end of the movie, I felt like I thoroughly knew him like a friend, and I cheered him on the whole time. He didn’t let events sweep him along. He made his own way and had his own strengths. Ben Kingsley was superb as the cautionary, fatherly, rigid Bagheera and even though I had my doubts, Bill Murray’s performance of the lazy, sly, humorous Baloo was just perfect. I knew from the moment I heard Idris Elba was playing Shere Khan that he wouldn’t disappoint. His version of the evil tiger was the best I’ve seen. He was terrifying and some of his lines gave me chills at his malice and cunning. The other performances were great as well such as the pangolin, bushpigs, and the porcupines who added a bit of humor to the tale.
The plot remained very similar to the original story, but with the better character development, the events didn’t seem like a random string of trials for Mowgli, but each one transitioned well into the other. It’s definitely more exciting with the added drought, landslide, stampede, and forest fire. There are multiple fight scenes throughout that add another sense of suspense and intrigue without bogging down the storyline. A beautiful soundtrack composed by John Debney carried the movie along. The music had nods to the original animated Disney film soundtrack giving a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. “Bear Necessities,” “Trust in Me,” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” still feature but in shorter versions, so the movie focuses more on the plot than the tunes.
Disney has had a kick with remakesm and this is by far my favorite out of all of them. The Jungle Book brings a fresh take on young Mowgli’s story without taking away what we loved about the original tale (*cough cough* like Maleficent). If Rudyard Kipling were still alive he would be in tears of joy in the theaters. After four tries, The Jungle Book has been finally told like how it was always meant to be.
The Bottom Line