“The Jungle Book” reinvents an old story


    In the opening minutes of the film, a scene of a jungle filled with tangled vines and blooming flowers unfolds before our eyes. Then there’s thudding footsteps, wolves and a boy in a red loincloth named Mowgli. Mowgli’s entrance is fast-paced, with darting camera angles that track his running through beautifully animated trees. The action-based start sets up the tone of the movie and lets the audience know that this is much more than a children’s movie. 

    “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau, follows closely to the original 1967 movie. The tale follows the young man-cub Mowgli who was raised in amidst wolves and swinging vines in the vast jungle. The adventure begins as Mowgli is forced from his home by the tiger Shere Khan and has to run away from the wolf clan that raised him. It’s a story about friendship, about man’s relationship to nature and most prominently the story of this young boy as he discovers his place in the world.

    Unlike the Disney’s animated 1967 version of “The Jungle Book,” this version takes a decidedly large turn towards the darker and sinister side of this coming-of-age story. Social commentary is subtly weaved throughout Mowgli’s adventure, as he not only faces the “eat or be eaten” policy of the jungle, but also how mankind is a threat to the environment with the invention of fire. This new movie is a beautiful CGI rendition of the original that is worth seeing.

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    Actor’s Scarlet Johanson and Christopher Walken pose with their CGI charter counterparts in a promotional shoot for the “The Jungle Book” Movie. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

    There is a sinister and disturbing, chaotic nature to the jungle that accompanies Mowgli’s adventure in the new movie. The jungle is equal parts dangerous and beautiful and through enchanting CGI, Favreau is able to artfully maneuver us through its tangled vines, majestic beasts and dark corners. The iconic scene where Mowgli is trapped by the breathy, seductive voice of Kaa, the gigantic python voiced by Scarlett Johansson, perfectly encapsulates the ominous atmosphere of the movie. The choice to switch Kaa’s voice to a woman really enhanced the spine-tingling atmosphere and hypnotic sequence.

    The sizes of the animals in the movie are blown out of proportion. Sometimes they were twice, three times or even ten times their actual size (we’re looking at you King Louie — way to scare the kids). The size of the animals serve to encapsulate the “child’s view of the world” which we see through Mowgli’s eyes. Mowgli’s view of the world warps our perception of reality. Although sometimes the enormous quality of some of the animals is enjoyable, King Louie’s disgusting folds of skin are a bit excessive. 

    The live actor in the movie, is 12-year-old Neel Sethi who plays the character of Mowgli. For a child actor, Sethi does an excellent job of portraying the emotion of a scared but also fearless boy who lives in the jungle. From outrage to confusion his facial expressions are convincing, from outrage to confusion, and he manages to seem serious and childishly humorous at the same. His acting takes the point across; this is a boy that is loyal to his friends and family and will do anything he can to stay in the jungle. Of course, “anything” always means more trouble.

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    British film star Ben Kingsley sits next to the CGI panther Bagheera who he voices in the film. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

     Mischief comes in the form of a honey-seeking, carefree, grizzly bear by the name of Baloo. And who better to play the voice of Baloo than Bill Murray? The singing bear is perfect comic relief for what could have otherwise been an overly dark movie. If a voice could ever be cantankerous, Murray is the one to pull it off. The song “The Bear Necessities” makes an entrance, but in a non-obtrusive way – just enough of a snippet to give a nod to the old song.

    The other song featured in the new movie is “I Wanna Be Like You,” sung by famous actor Christopher Walken as King Louie. Walken’s raspy voice is perfect for the haunting spin put on the classic song. 

    The new film keeps the narrator of the story, the panther Bagheera, voiced by the smooth and polished voice of Ben Kingsley. A perfect posh voice for an uptight panther. 

    “The Jungle Book” movie presented the perfect blend of beautiful CGI and amazing voice work. The new movie masterfully renewed the original by adding a significantly dark sinister atmosphere. We recommend the movie to anyone wishing to rediscover this childhood classic, revisit classic songs and discover a sinister yet gorgeous CGI jungle. 

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