There is a lot of confusion over The Jungle Book. For one thing, we have two movies with the same name. The one that’s out in theaters and has everyone raving is Disney’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s book, while the other is a Warner Bros’ offering, and its release has just been pushed back to 2018. While the WB movie was supposed to be called Jungle Book: Origins, it’s going to be just Jungle Book now. This review is about the Disney movie, since that’s the one that’s actually out. In true Disney style, the movie is much more family friendly and skips over a lot of the darker bits in Kipling’s book. The general expectation is that the WB movie will be much darker in comparison.
In The Jungle Book, we’re once again introduced to Mowgli. For those of you who haven’t watched the original, animated film (gasp!), or read the book, Mowgli is a “man-cub” who is lost in the jungles of India as a toddler. He’s found by the wise black panther Bagheera, who takes him to a pack of wolves who raise him as one of their own cubs.
But even a family movie needs a good villain, and we have Sher Khan, the tiger. Sher Khan seems to despise Mowgli particularly and we learn why from Kaa, the snake. Mowgli’s father is killed by Sher Khan, but before he dies, he manages to blind one of the tiger’s eyes. As he first sees Mowgli with the wolf pack during a water truce (where hunting near the lakes and rivers is suspended due to a period without rains), he can’t do anything to him. He warns the pack that Mowgli should be turned over to him, or he will attack once the rains come.
Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, and Bagheera decide to send Mowgli back to a man-village, believing he’s safest there. As Mowgli is being taken by Bagheera, Sher Khan attacks and Mowgli gets separated. It is then that he runs into Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson – Kaa is portrayed as a male python in the book and the original movie), who, of course, tries to eat him. In the nick of time, he’s saved by everyone’s favorite character, Baloo!
Baloo the bear is the one most people remember from the original movie (apart from Mowgli of course), because of the strong bond he forms with the boy, and for the song ‘Bare Necessities’, which makes an appearance in this movie too. In fact, most of the movie doesn’t deviate from the original movie, be it the monkeys kidnapping Mowgli, or Baloo and Bagheera heading to the abandoned temple to save him. There is no new story here. So, why should you watch it? Simply because it’s amazing.
Mowgli is portrayed by Neel Sethi, who does a pretty decent job, though his inexperience pokes through some times. However, pretty much everything else is CGI. And that’s just it! The film-makers have done a fantastic job making sure every detail is as realistic as possible. The animals look and act pretty realistic, though I’m not an expert on that. Every bit of the forest has been excellently rendered, but while it does look realistic, it definitely looks like what it is, a fantasy.
Another strong bit here is the character development. A good villain is one that you find yourself agreeing with and boy does Sher Khan deliver. I also enjoyed the bond between Raksha (Mowgli’s adoptive wolf-mother) and Mowgli, and of course, Mowgli’s friendship with Baloo.
To wrap up, this is definitely old wine in a new bottle. But the new bottle alone makes the movie worth watching.