With Captain America: Civil War’s release right around the corner and already being touted as “the greatest superhero movie ever” by those who have been lucky enough to see it early, I wanted to highlight another movie that was a recent success for the home of the big mouse boss. Even though I actually saw it on its opening weekend, I wanted to share my thoughts on the highly successful live-action recreation of Disney’s The Jungle Book. While I initially went to see the movie out of nostalgia, I was highly impressed with how much bigger they made some of the scenes I remembered from the animated version of my childhood in transition to live action and CGI.
Mowgli, the young and naïve hero, has to figure out where he belongs in the world even though he was adopted by a loving family he doesn’t quite fit into and he is driven from the only home he has ever known because of a vengeful killer. Among the colorful cast of creatures he encounters on his journey of self-discovery, Mowgli has to determine who is really looking out for his best interests and how he can make a place for himself in the home he must choose. The film really emphasizes the meaning of family, identity, and friendship, which is exactly how I remember the original story. It even subtly touches on how to stand up to bullies with the support of family and friends.
Before I gush over how awesome the movie was for me, I do want to gripe over just a few bothersome things. There were times when the CGI characters’ interactions with the only major live character, Mowgli, were obviously fake, which was awkward in maybe one or two scenes, but that did not really take away from the movie considering how well-choreographed most of the action sequences were. I also had to complain a little over how Christopher Walken (voice of King Louie) and Bill Murray (voice of Baloo) butchered two of my favorite Disney songs from my childhood, but again, that didn’t take away from the movie overall. I was also really hoping that the giant serpent Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, would have more of a hiss to her voice. While that wasn’t the case, Johansson did carry a low, seductive tone that kind of made up for it. And the only other thing that bothered me after leaving the theater was the question of how a sloth bear who is afraid of heights managed to climb a large tree to fight a giant snake in its branches.
I really liked how each creature in the jungle had an established role, like the slacker and loner bear Baloo, the protective wolf pack, and the monkey mob lead by King Louie. Even with two big cats sharing the screen, I really appreciated how well they characterized Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) in his role as a bully and the major big bad of the jungle in contrast to the wise and compassionate Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo’s escape from Louie’s castle and the final confrontation with Shere Khan were extremely exciting, and the movie really inspired me in ways that the original could not.
I really enjoyed the overarching themes of the movie, the pcing of the story, and its heartfelt moments — especially between Mowgli and his wolf-mother and Mowgli and Baloo. I felt like every character was fully realized and that the cast and crew really highlighted some of the best scenes from the original book and the Disney’s first adaptation. While I never actually read the complete Rudyard Kipling story, my regular movie-going partner had read it, or had at least read enough SparkNotes to enlighten me. Even without the additional knowledge, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it went beyond my expectations, especially with an alternate ending from the one I was familiar with. Director Jon Favreau did an excellent job with retelling the classic story and I understand Andy Serkis has his own version in the works as well. Even after all of this time, I can’t get tired of seeing how many ways a great story can be told.