Jungle jungle pata chala hain, chaddi pehan ke phool khila hain. These iconic lyrics by Gulzar are eternally etched in the minds of millions of Indian kids born in the late 70s and 80s who used to watch The Jungle Book series every Sunday morning on the national television channel. Then, Mowgli became a household name and one of the most endearing characters on TV. After a gap of three decades, The Jungle Book is back and I must confess this is a great way to return in style. The theaters are super packed not just with kids, but adults who must have been a Mowgli-fan during their childhood days. Directed by Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book borrows the plot from the books by Rudyard Kipling and the 1967 Disney classic of the same name.
With a runtime just shy of two hours, the story takes off from the first scene itself wasting no time to introduce the characters and Mowgli who has already witnessed ten summers in the jungle playing around with his family, his wolf siblings and being trained by Bagheera, the black panther. However, this time, the conditions are real bad and the jungle has been going through a dry spell. To make matters worse, Sher Khan – the tiger, despises human beings and he hates Mowgli to the bone because he is a human child. After a stern warning from Sher Khan, the animals decide that it would be better if Mowgli heads to the nearest man-village since he is a man-cub. Bagheera, a fatherly figure to Mowgli agrees and accompanies him on his journey, but half-way through Mowgli meets Baloo, the bear, and a never-ending bond is formed between the two which also changes the course of the story.
Now, here are five reasons I think why you must watch The Jungle Book, rather than skipping it and considering it just another childish Disney-tale.
While the script derives heavily from the original books, the biggest positive of the film is the way the story has been told. It’s the same story, but a fresh narrative makes it edgier and appealing to the adults as well. Few tweaks have been made to the screenplay in the right way that turns this Disney-tale into a brilliant coming-of-age heartwarming story. Unlike the 1967 story, this story is a bit for grown-ups and therefore the jungle is not pleasing and colorful, but unforgiving and scarier. It’s a wild world out there and only the fittest can survive and we get to learn that right in the beginning. Very Un-Disney.
Every character in this version of the story plays a vital role in taking the plot forward. However, director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks lends more than what we as an audience expect. Mowgli’s character is child-like, but as the story progresses we see development in his thinking capabilities and emotional awareness. Neel Sethi as Mowgli has got his expressions right to keep us hooked all the time. Similarly, Bagheera, Baloo, and other animal kingdom characters also understand and adapt to the situation in order to protect the jungle and to get rid of a menace called Sher Khan.
The entire film has been shot in downtown Los Angeles and not a single bit of it is shot in the real jungle and yet the movie makes you feel as if you were lost in the thick jungles of India, now that’s commendable. The live-action CGI is top class as the technical teams who earlier worked on Avatar and Life of Pi come together. The only real character in flesh and blood on screen is Neel Sethi, who portrays Mowgli, everything else is animated. Leaping frogs, water ripples, wild buffaloes running around, the grace in Sher Khan’s walk, every detail is right on the spot, and oh yes, the notorious monkeys and the helpful elephants. Watch it in 3D and the jungle springs out from the screen right into your face.
Cinematography & Music
The camera is an extension of viewer’s eye and cinematographer Bill Pope knows this fact for sure. He is the guy behind the camera for The Matrix trilogy, Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3 and he surely knows what he’s doing. The cinematography sucks you into the jungle and holds your attention right from the word go. The camera zooms in and out and follows Mowgli and his animal kingdom mates jump and bounce through the wilderness and the jungle landscape. The background score plays hand in hand with the scene and feels like an extension of character’s emotions piercing through your heart, as you vouch for the young protagonist prepared to fight mighty battles claiming his authority to stay in the jungle. The movie includes the immensely popular ‘The Bare Necessities’ song, but this movie ain’t a musical for sure.
Dialogues & Voice Casting
Just a few days ago, I saw the 1967 Disney movie which would help me compare the two movies. The dialogues in this version are certainly keeping in mind how the director is narrating the story. The characters have great dialogues that lend more to the script and screenplay. Baloo, the bear certainly gets some of the best dialogues in the movie. In one of the scenes, Mowgli recites the Law of the Jungle song – ‘For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is pack’, to which Baloo exclaims, ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda’. The voice casting is brilliant with Bill Murray as the friendly Baloo and Ben Kingsley as the Bagheera, a guiding force for Mowgli. Lupita Nyong’o lends her voice as Raksha, female member of the Seeonee pack who offers a mother’s comfort and protection to Mowgli. Kaa as a hypnotizing python has a very limited role, but Scarlett Johansson’s hissing dialogue delivery is s-s-simply venomous-s-s and intox-s-s-icating. Idris Elba as the menacing Sher Khan roars and commands in his low baritone that can send shivers through a child’s spine. Christopher Walken as King Louie is funny, desperate to get his hands on the recipe of the ‘red flower’ (fire) only humans can create.
Overall, The Jungle Book is a trip down the memory lane. It certainly offers much more than the 1967 version, but director Jon Favreau has a clear understanding that at the end of the day he is making an adventure story for kids. The live-action CGI has a whirlpool effect to keep audiences glued to the seats for 111 minutes munching popcorns in fear, desperation and backing the Mowgli to emerged victorious in his endeavors and against his battle with the mighty Sher Khan. Watch it with your kids, this jungle ride is worth every dime you pay for it.