Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book combines elements of Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel series and well as Disney’s 1967 animated film beautifully. The set up and story follows along a lot like the animated movie, but there’s a dash from the books that make it different as well as a homage.
Mowgli is still brought to the wolf tribe by Bagheera as a baby and is raised by the wolves. One summer in drought season when all animals gather at the watering hole under a peace truce, Shere Khan arrives and threatens to kill Mowgli if he is not gone by the time when the Peace Rock is submerged in water. The wolf pack debates among themselves about what to do and it is Mowgli who volunteers to leave the jungle to keep the pack safe from the tiger. Bagheera agrees and accompanies him to the man village. On their way Shere Khan breaks his promise and ambushes the pair and separates them.
While sort of looking, sort of moving in the general direction they were going, for Bagheera, Kaa the snake hypnotizes/deals out the backstory of how Shere Khan killed his father as an infant and that’s when Bagheera found him. whilst wrapping him in her coils to eat him. Mowgli is saved by Baloo the bear. When he comes to, Baloo asks the debt be re-payed and the boy get him the honey off a cliff the lazy bear can’t reach. Crafting together tree roots, vines and leafs, Mowgli manages to get the honey. Impressed by his devices, Baloo convinces Mowgli to stick with him to help him hibernate. It’s short-lived when Bagheera shows up revealing that bears don’t hibernate in the jungle and Baloo is just a bum and that they need to go to the man village before Shere Khan picks up the boy’s scent.
In the morning Baloo agrees to convince Mowgli to go to the man village by purposefully being mean to Mowgli, forcing him to run away. Unfortunately he gets kidnapped by King Louie’s associates. King Louie guarantees Mowgli’s safety in exchange for The Red Flower (fire). Not knowing how to make the red flower, King Louie breaks into “I Wanna be Like You” while Baloo and Bagheera infiltrate the temple and try to flee with Mowgli. In their escape, King Louie lets it slip that Akela has been killed. Mad that Bagheera has known about this, Mowgli runs away again to fight Shere Khan on his own.
He runs towards the man village and steals a torch from the entrance and goes back into the jungle, sparks flying and starting fires in his wake. His plan to make Shere Khan fear him literally backfires as the entire jungle now fears Mowgli for what he has done. Scared and not wanting to do anymore damage, Mowgli tosses the torch in the lake. Shere Khan rightfully chuckles that that was a poor move and gives chase. Baloo and Bagheera manage to slow the tiger down enough for Mowgli to set a trap – climbing up an old tree and waiting for the weight of them both to give way and leap to a vine to safety while Shere Khan falls into the flames.
The elephants, whom Mowgli had used his inventions to help get their baby out of a ditch, arrive and form an irrigation system to put out the fire.
Mowgli stays in the jungle.
I really liked this take on The Jungle Book as it made Mowgli more of a problem solver and he made himself things to make up for his lack of claws and fur. Often the animals would look down on him for it, his own ‘family’ telling him that that is not the wolf way. And then he meets Baloo and is praised for his devices, he feels of worth. He saves the elephant’s baby and earns their respect. Had he been a bit more aware of what fire did, he probably could have approached Shere Khan differently. The “Be yourself” message has been strong in Disney as of late and I like it.
Rashka playing a bigger part made me happy due to the lack of female characters. Kaa was also made female for this reason, even though she only had the one scene, though her hypnotizing effect and exposition was impressive. Akela’s death by Shere Khan is actually something I remember from reading one of the abridged books when I was young.
Most impressive was that not only the animals but the entire jungle is CGI! You would never know. Recreating the jungle from the animated movie into CGI and being in complete control of it is really cool. I loved the homage to 2D animation from the day that was used as the Disney intro with the castle and panned from the water into the jungle with the original overture revamped by John Debney. Neel Sethi is very much a child actor, but you’ve got to hand it to him for being able to interact with nothing but puppets and green screens.
I was pleased with the cast as each one was announced over the last year and I’ve really come to love Idris Elba. Sir Ben Kingsley is always a delight. Bill Murray doesn’t do a direct impression of Pat Harris, but he is just as laid back and fun.
If you’re a fan of the animated Disney film, or the live-action 1994 one or the books, you’d definitely love this. If you love to see amazing visual effects, definitely check it out.