THE JUNGLE BOOK
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Produced By: Jon Favreau & Brigham Taylor
Based On: Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1895) & Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967)
Premiered On: April 15, 2016
Distribution By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Given that it’s Earth Day today, I had plans to actually review the film Ferngully as it is one of the first theatrical films I had ever seen and whose villain is still among my top ten favorites but then I had to go and see Disney’s latest live action adaptation to one of its Golden Age Classics, The Jungle Book.
Now, as per usual with reviews based on current film, there will some small SPOILERS in this review. I’ll try and keep it to the bare necessities but that’s all that I promise. First and foremost, seeing as I’ve already previously touched upon the difference between the novel and the original film, I’ll focus more on the differences between this adaptation and the animated one though I’ll refrain from speaking about Mowgli himself as the film is his story just as the animated one was. I will also admit that this film does base itself more on the book than the animated film does, namely in how the animals present themselves in groups referring to those outside their respected groups as “people,” ironically enough.
Anyway, one of the biggest differences between the films is Mowgli’s relationship with the Seeonee wolf pack. Namely, that he actually is shown having one. Oh yes, it’s touched upon very lightly in the animated film but in this one? Oh man, where do I start? Akela, though referred to strictly by name by Mowgli is as much a father to him as he can be though he strives to maintain the professional distance of an alpha wolf in the pack. As to Mowgli’s adopted mother Raksha… I believe that I will use a direct quote from the film itself here.
“No matter where you go or what they may call you, you will always be my son.”
That is just so freaking refreshing to see in a Disney movie. Seriously you’ve no idea how utterly rare it is for there to be a significant mother figure in a Disney film, live action or otherwise, that with just a few words emphasizes all that a mother is.
Bagheera is the same if a bit surlier than his animated counterpart, going to extreme lengths to keep Mowgli safe for reasons not fully revealed in the film proper. He’s also a lot closer to Mowgli in this film, something of a second father to him after Akela though, more often than not, a harsh but not wholly unforgiving teacher as well.
The major difference in Kaa is making the hypnotizing snake into a female and I admit, I was a bit surprised by this, even more so when they choose Scarlett Johansen, famous for her role as the Black Widow in the Marvel Film Franchise, to voice her. That is, until I actually heard her speak… Kaa still maintains her hypnotic color swirling eyes but coupled with that voice? Oh man, she quite literally put Mowgli under a spell. Unfortunately, an old, and frankly extremely overused, Hollywood trick gets a place in this film thanks to Kaa, namely the old “finding an enormous piece of snakeskin before meeting said enormous snake.”
Though, to be fair, this might actually explain Kaa’s behavior towards Mowgli. See, snakes are unbelievably hungry after shedding their skin as most of them won’t eat during that time, which can be anywhere from two or more weeks depending on the size and species of the snake. Considering how much Kaa reveals to Mowgli of his past and of Shere Khan, it seemed rather odd that she’d want to eat him.
I mean, I get the idea of hypnotizing him out of his little head but way make the effort of showing him his birth father’s death, the origin of Shere Khan’s scarred face and hatred of man, and even how Mowgli was found and brought to the wolves by Bagheera? Heck, she even tells/warns him outright of man’s “red flower” otherwise known as fire.
Baloo is surprisingly different yet wholly the same insomuch that while he still strives for the bare necessities of life, he’s actually more of a con artist in this version of the tale, as Bagheera calls him such outright. Make no mistake though, he’s got a heart of gold and is made of surprisingly sterner stuff than what one would expect from a sloth bear. He risks his hide for Mowgli more than one occasion and even makes it a point to tell the boy to stay behind him when some bushes are rustling suspiciously and was even the one responsible for saving him from Kaa.
He also has one of the best lines in the film as an animal comments to him how Mowgli is unlikely to succeed any more than those who Baloo had tricked before, to which he replies, “You have never been more endangered than you are right now.”
I laughed so hard at that line that I’m still aching and it’s been nearly a week since I saw the movie!
As to King Louie… I think out of all the voice actors that were chosen for their respect roles, the voice of Christopher Walken for King Louie surprised a lot of people. An original character in the film, Louie was easily one of the bigger examples of the film’s time period, that being the jazzy sixties. True, he was a king but one that seemed to command authority based on his uniqueness of being an orangutan, a species not native to India. On a similar vein, Walken’s Louie is in point of fact not a ginormous orangutan as I had originally believed, nor is he a cousin to King Kong as others have joked.
He is in fact a Gigantopithecus, a species of ape that stood around twelve feet tall and had likely gone extinct as recently as one hundred thousand years ago. Aside from this major bodily difference, this version of Louie, much to Walken’s credit, comes off as being a true leader insomuch that he sounds like an outright mafia kingpin amongst the monkeys with his all too casual introduction of, “Call me Louie.”
Seriously, I have expected him to start smoking a cigar or taking a drink of martini or something.
Last, but certainly not least, is the main antagonist of the film. Shere Khan is a far worse villain in this film than he is in the animated one. The original version makes it appear as though Shere Khan is the only tiger in the jungle, or at least the only one that hunts in that specific part of it, but in this film it’s much different. Baloo initially dismisses the threat of a tiger being after Mowgli until Bagheera informs him that it’s Shere Khan specifically, which helps to encourage the bear into forcing Mowgli to go the man village even if it hurts them both.
Contrary to the animated version, this Shere Khan is wounded though not in the same manner as the book version. Instead, Shere Khan’s face is horribly scarred by fire and is even blind in his left eye. In point of fact, while Shere Khan has a healthy respect for fire, he does not possess pyrophobia as his animated counterpart does, or at least not to the same debilitating degree.
While I am by no means a master in the art of storytelling, I tend to pride myself in being able to spot guess where a story might be heading and I was downright floored by Shere Khan’s reaction to Mowgli showing up to confront him with a burning torch in hand. This Shere Khan is, without any unnecessary spoilers, far more cunning and patient than his animated counterpart, willing to go to extreme lengths to see that Mowgli is not only killed but that no one, not even Mowgli’s wolf family, would be willing to stand beside the man cub.
One thing that I want to give this film credit for is the music, primarily the opening theme that harkens back to the original film. As to actual songs, as I’m sure many people are already aware thanks to teasers from the trailers, certain songs from the original make it into the film itself.
Kaa’s song, “Trust in Me” is sung during the credits and not the film proper. Of the three, it is actually my favorite to listen to as this incarnation of Kaa makes it into a truly creepy lullaby unlike any other. Baloo does sing “The Bare Necessities” but it really can’t compare to the original only because Bill Murray, for as great a voice actor as he is in this film, is by no means a singer. That and the song itself is purposefully sung as how one would sing any song without any kind of musical accompaniment, at least in the film itself. King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You” is easily the best as far as visuals go and rides on the coils of Kaa’s song too only for one reason.
Christopher Walken himself sings it.
Nothing more needs to be said.
One last thing to note before I give my final thoughts towards this film is how much of a success it has garnered in its opening weekend. It is the second biggest live action adaptation of a previously animated Disney film, just behind Alice in Wonderland, and tied with Maleficent in its Thursday preview earnings of $4.2 million. In point of fact, it has earned a total of $103.6 million in its opening weekend, exceeding expectations by 40%. Expectations that had been raised more than once prior to the film’s actual release might I add.
Overall, I give this film a solid ten out of five stars because really, it deserves no less. Visually stunning in scenery and characters alike, this movie is a fantastical rendition of a classical book and an animated classic combined. I’d even go so far as to say that this is easily among the top of Disney live action films as a whole and not just those based on previous films, animated or otherwise.