Disney Updates Itself Again With The Jungle Book
In the wild, animals have been known to take care of their own, even when they find themselves with one who clearly is not. The Jungle Book tells the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a pre-teen boy who was raised by wolves. As an infant, Mowgli was orphaned during an animal attack, but taken to safety by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera delivered the boy to a wolf mother named Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and her mate Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Though they call the boy a man cub, they know that the boy can do things they cannot. During a period of water truce, where the water is scarce and the animals agree not to hunt one another, the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) lets the kingdom know that the man cub will be his target once the rainy season. When the animals stand in unison against Shere Khan when the truce ends, he responds by killing Akela. Bagheera takes Mowgli toward safety in a nearby village. The tiger follows, but Bagheera fights Shere Khan as the boy makes his escape.
More trouble awaits Mowgli on this trek. The boy meets the python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), who promises to tell him the story of his family before eating him. Mowgli gets rescued from Kaa's clutches by Baloo (Bill Murray), who swats the coiled snake away from her prey. Mowgli helps Baloo gather honey so the bear won't go hungry. Bagheera finally catches up to the pair, and convinces Baloo that Mowgli won't be safe there. On the way to other humans, Mowgli encounters a group of primates who take Mowgli to their leader, the orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken), who wants Mowgli to partner with him to give his kingdom fire. Bagheera and Baloo follow, only to have to fend off Louie's creatures. Understanding Shere Khan's intentions, Mowgli makes a decision that puts his life at risk.
Disney's first film of Rudyard Kipling's tales (1967) was decidely more lighthearted than the take presented by director Jon Favreau. It also differs from the live action version the studio released in 1994. Still, I enjoyed the tale of adventure as Mowgli has reached an age where he's about to grow into adulthood. He's already fashioned tools that only he can use, and Raksha calls tricks. With his tools, Mowgli can gather water, collect honey, and rescue creatures. Every creature despises Shere Khan, but the ones Mowgli knows don't have the strength to fight the tiger on his terms. Yet, they will put their lives on the line to protect the boy, as Bagheera has done since he first brought the boy to his wolf family. The screenplay adaptation comes from Justin Marks, who captures the danger and some of the camaraderie that can be found away from civilization. The pacing from Favreau is a little too slow at first, but moves a little more quickly when Mowgli meets Baloo. While John Debney has composed a score for this movie, viewers will hear some of the songs that Richard and Robert Sherman wrote for Disney's first film version of The Jungle Book. The tunes include a slightly updated version of I Wan'na Be Like You, with the new lyrics coming from Richard Sherman.
Sethi appears in the flesh on the screen, and does a nice job as the man cub who finds he's becoming a man in his own way. He not only must find a way to avoid the fate Shere Khan wants for him, but he realizes the animals who raised him and bonded with him need to be protected from the tiger. The tools that Raksha calls tricks do help her adopted boy in this environment. Elba brings a menacing voice to Shere Khan, who obeys the laws of the jungle, but makes it clear the jungle will not be home to both him and a human. Kingsley provides a voice of wisdom and protection as Bagheera, who knows the dangers a grown man can be, as well as the dangers Shere Khan can be on his mission. Nyong'o provides a voice of comfort as Raksha, while Johansson has a dangerously seductive voice as Kaa. Murray, as Baloo, adds many of the film's comic moments as Baloo, who asks Mowgli to gather honey for a hibernation that he knows isn't necessary where he lives. Walken also impresses in his brief role as King Louie, who dominates his kind and looks to strike a deal for greater domination with Mowgli. The film also marks the final acting role for Garry Shandling, who voices Ikki, a porcupine.
Disney has always been known for top-notch animation, solid storytelling, and features with the excellent special effects. Audiences get all three in The Jungle Book, a family-friendly film that provides a good contrast to Disney's first two films of this material. In Jon Favreau's version, a boy comes of age and becomes increasingly aware of the differences between himself and the animals who raised him. While Mowgli has needed them to survive, they may now need him for that very reason. It shows that the bond between animals of all kinds can be strong, even when the differences are obvious.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Jungle Book three stars. The third time still charms.