Film Review: 'The Jungle Book'
Walt Disney's live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book celebrates the 49th anniversary of the animated film of the same name, which was the last for Walt Disney himself to produce before his passing. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) and starring a culmination of voice talent: Bill Murray (Baloo), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Lupita Nyong'o (Raksha), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela) and Christopher Walken (King Louie). The film also introduces the real-life performance of Neel Sethi as Mowgli.
The translation to live-action from the funky and fanfare rich The Jungle Book (1967), comes a more tangible, evocative and horrific rendition of the tale that immerses the audience in a world not quite like our own. The film appeals to the part of our culture that seeks to escape to a fantasy world that touches upon a timeless proverb of humanity.
The atmosphere is a combination of real Indian jungle terrain and that of the imaginings of author Rudyard Kipling. The film depicts a jungle that we can almost know what to expect is going to be stalking it. We are surprised and terrified again and again, while the sought after "man cub" Mowgli is coveted by various creatures of the jungle world. Being the first Jungle Book adaptation to receive a PG rating, it is evident from the beginning of the film that we should all feel a sense of danger, not only from the vengeful Shere Khan, but of "man" as well. As Mowgli fights to stake his claim in the jungle as part of the wolf pack, we feel included as well.
The technology utilized for the film by Moving Picture Company is quite intricate and sensational. Besides one bald eagle that looks cartoonish, there's no contest to the realistic quality of the CGI characters in this film. Not only do these characters look realistic, but they also immediately win the audience's sympathy. It is due to this increased sense of reality and true peril for these animal characters that the film takes on a different tone from the Disney animated classic. Scenes fondly remembered from childhood and the silliness portrayed is altered, and characters like Kaa, King Louie and the consistent unpredictability of Shere Khan, appear much more grave than they did before. Shere Khan, in
particular, is a more multilayered character than ever before. He fears man and the "red flower" that man can use to kill and destroy nature. He is a stark contrast to other villains who are seemingly an all-encompassing evil--he has fears just like we all do.
Favreau and writer Justin Marks expertly antagonize our anxiety felt during the wildebeest sequence at the end of Act I in The Lion King (1994). A similar ravine is introduced as a way for Mowgli to escape the claws of Shere Khan. A herd comes racing down the ravine threatening to trample Mowgli. The fear we all once had for young Simba who was in the same situation, are now much more worried to see Mowgli attempting to escape two visceral dangers--Shere Khan and being trampled. Favreau takes our expectation from what we've previously seen and turns it on its head.
The Jungle Book, although more frightening than its predecessor, brings all the magic that we expect from Disney all the while giving it an edge. If there were ever to be a suspenseful horror film via Disney, this is it. It's fantastic and terrifying all at the same time.