Wednesday, August 31, 2016

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016): Third Disney Remake

Rudyard Kipling’s classic children stories contained in The Jungle Book was first filmed as a cartoon by Disney in 1967, then in 1994, and finally into a more updated animated version in 2016.  Though the latest version comes closest to capturing the spirit of the stories as Kipling envisioned them, this still is little different from the previous films.

Disney did try to make a production out of this 2016 version of The Jungle Book.  With an estimated budget of $175 million, The Jungle Book provides a spectacular visual viewing.  (Despite the amazing scenery depicted throughout the movie, the moviemakers apparently filmed The Jungle Book in some Los Angeles warehouse.)  Also, Disney did not hold back on the casting.  The voices of the characters include Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, and Garry Shandling among others.  Director Jon Favreau and the producers of the film were also wise enough to keep the movie to 106 minutes to keep the interest of young viewers.  Bill Murray and Christopher Walken also provide some good comic relief as the film may otherwise be a bit too dark for those only familiar with the earlier Disney versions.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi – the only live actor shown on the screen) is a young boy raised by wolves in the jungle, befriended by a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), and counseled by a wise panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley).  What otherwise would be paradise for Mowgli is threatened by his enemy, a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who disdains any man entering the jungle.  Attempts by Bagheera to bring Mowgli back to a village inhabited by humans are unsuccessful.  Mowgli runs into several adventures where he is put under the spell of a cobra (Scarlett Johansson), temporarily kidnapped by a large orangutan called Louie (Christopher Walken), and eventually returns to his home where the wolves live.  Mowgli eventually gets Shere Khan to follow up into a tree where a branch snaps and the tiger falls to his death.  Mowgli is then once again free to run with the wolves.

At least two critics I’ve read stated that Disney wished to avoid controversy by leaving out Kipling’s colonialist message.   Unlike the Kipling stories, Mowgli never returns to civilization in the film.  This would likely be too complex of a twist to be contained within such a short film – even if Disney did not give Kipling intent in writing the stories a second thought.  In the Disney versions, the jungle is not such a terrible place for a young boy to live.  In the Kipling version, failure to abide by the rules of the jungle, which would be almost impossible for even a boy like Mowgli to follow, would lead to almost certain death.

Though it is understandable leaving out Mowgli’s return to society, since the intent of the movie is to be charming rather than compelling, the film ultimately is little different than the cartoon version filmed almost fifty years ago.  One only has to consider all of the sequels and remakes made today in Hollywood to understand how moviemakers wish to bring in more dollars.  And so while The Jungle Book is momentarily entertaining, we will probably forget about the movie until Disney attempts to create another version with even more updated visuals.
August 31, 2016

© Robert S. Miller 2016