The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

Movie remakes are risky endeavours, particularly when the first version was successful.

The late great Walt Disney had a direct hand in shaping the animated The Jungle Book, which almost makes it a sacred thing. However, with masterful direction by John Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) and an intelligent screenplay by Justin Marks (nothing you’ve probably heard of), Disney has created a picture so robust, so entertaining, and so complete, you can hardly compare it to the original animated classic – it stands as a classic all on its own.

“Live action” is a bit of a misnomer for this film, though. Sure, the main character, Mowgli (brilliantly acted by newcomer Neel Sethi), is a real live breathing human, but he is the only real thing in the film, as everything else in the picture is CGI (computer-generated imagery). You would never know it. In the credits it says “filmed in Los Angeles”, with a list of over 200 animators who worked on this picture.

This is CGI at its finest. The cinematography is spectacular, with an up close and personal tour of several jungle terrains from creepy, dense treetops to grassy savannahs to abandoned ruins. 

At every turn, there is something beautiful to view, and the detail is so realistic you completely forget that no, animals don’t talk, and no, a boy can’t survive a stampede, a mudslide, or a 50 foot fall. 

I give huge credit to child actor Neel Sethi, as well as to the director who was able to get such a relaxed, fun, and believable performance out of Sethi. There is never a moment when you don’t believe him, and, given the fact that he carries the whole movie alone in front of a green screen, that’s really saying something.

Visual amazements aside, a very good film becomes great when compelling story lines and character relationships make us care about the outcome. Jungle Book delivers in spades, largely due to a brilliantly crafted script delivered by a seasoned voiceover cast. 

Ben Kingsley is a perfect Bagheera, Mowgli’s disapproving guardian panther, complete with a perfect English accent and just the right amount of condescension. 

Bill Murray is an inspired casting choice for Baloo the Bear, Mowgli’s free-spirited friend and protector (the polar opposite to Bagheera). 

Idris Elba is menacing as Sheer Khan, Mowgli’s nemesis and pursuer; Christopher Walken is convincing as King Louie, giant ape who wants the man cub to give him fire “the red flower” so he can rule the jungle; Scarlett Johanssen is pure seduction as Kaa, the snake; and Giancarlo Esposito is powerful as Akila, leader of the wolves. 

However, I have to say that it was Lupito Nyongo’o’s (12 Years A Slave) performance as Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf mother that actually brought me to tears (no, I mean it, she actually made me cry). 

Entertaining as it is, the theme of The Jungle Book is racism, the concept of strength in numbers, and the belief that we can break through stereotypes. 

Mowgli doesn’t belong. He doesn’t look or act like the other wolves no matter how much he tries. In the early part of the film, he is chastised by Bagheera for not acting more ‘wolf-like’ and for using his ‘man tricks’ (making simple tools) to get things done. Bagheera wants him to abdicate his strengths to try to fit in. It is Baloo who encourages Mowgli to embrace his skills, and to stay in the jungle rather than returning to the man village. 

Sheer Khan hates Mowgli, because he has been taught to fear and hate all men, which one day Mowgli will be. With the exception of Baloo, no one accepts Mowgli for the unique entity he is: A man with animal sensibilities. 

This movie has lots of action, a few surprises that will make you jump, and a well-paced plot delivery. The only moments that really didn’t seem fluid were the two songs from the animated film – “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna’ Be Like You”. Both songs seemed like forced levity, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, and Neel Sethi cannot sing very well. The songs are reprised (and to much better effect) in the end credits which are totally worth staying for, as is a slow and sexy version of “Trust in Me” by Scarlett Johansson.

It is a refreshing departure to the original cartoon version that Mowgli is not seduced by a pretty girl to abandon his pack and the home he loves to return to the man village. Still a Disney ending, but a more evolved one that is about inclusion and diversity – a lesson we cannot repeat enough these days.

All in all, this is a fantastic film full of surprises, action, and splendour.

Movie locations and times

I give this movie five hearts.


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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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