April 8, 2016
When I went to watch the live-action/ computer graphic remake of The Jungle Book, I barely remember the original 1967 animated feature. I just remember the characters the man-cub Mowgli, the black panther Bagheera, the bear Baloo, the tiger Shere Khan, the python Kaa and how they looked. However, the story though was sketchy already.
Mowgli was a boy who was raised by wolves in the jungle when he was abandoned there. When Mowgli's safety was threatened by man-hating tiger Shere Khan, his black panther mentor Bagheera decides to bring him to the safety of the man-village. Separated en route, Mowgli had to face dangers of the jungle himself, like being hypnotized by python Kaa, kidnapped by a giant Orangutan King Louie and exploited by a lazy bear Baloo.
Being animated, I recall the 1967 to be very cute, light-hearted and funny. There were some scary moments, particularly the Kaa scene, but you never really get the sense that Mowgli was in any true danger. However, in this new, darker PG-rated version, that sense of danger was very real. Animals here get hurt. Animals here can actually die.
Shere Khan, as muscularly voiced by Idris Elba, was very intense. This tiger was ugly, merciless and vicious. Kaa, with the lilting yet creepy voice of Scarlett Johansson, was indeed mesmerizing in a sinister way. King Louie was seen here a monstrous giant of an orangutan called a Gigantopithecus. He was given a more imposing and formidable air by the voice of Christopher Walken.
You can also identify the good guys by their friendly voices. The wise and caring Bagheera was given dignity and class by the voice of Ben Kingsley. Mowgli's loyal and compassionate mother wolf Raksha is gentle and maternally caring by Lupita Nyong'o. Best of all was the laid-back and down-to-earth charm of Bill Murray voice behind the beloved loafer bear Baloo. He even gets to sing the classic Oscar-winning song from the first film, "The Bare Necessities," complete with the iconic river floating scene.
I was very impressed with the child actor Neel Sethi who totally nailed his movie debut with a spirited and affecting performance as Mowgli. This is despite the fact that he was the only true living thing in most parts of this film. Sethi was able to effectively convey emotions even when he was acting with imaginary animals in front of a green screen the whole time.
This new version of "The Jungle Book" with its expanded vision and advanced technology gives us Rudyard Kipling's stories with modern concerns highlighted. While there are familiar elements from the first movie, this one shows us a lot of new things. We see the majestic Elephants in a new, more reverent light. We meet new animal friends like Ikki the Porcupine (voiced by the recently departed Gary Shandling). We learn how Mowgli was left alone in the jungle. We get an entirely new and definitely more exciting climactic confrontation between Mowgli and his tormentor Shere Khan.
At first, I thought this was an unnecessary remake. I was wrong. This film definitely made the timeless story more compelling and vital, both visually and emotionally. Director Jon Favreau did this one right. 8/10.