Any movie fan is aware that the biggest trends for movie studios in this day and age are reboots and remakes. Disney certainly has a habit of digging up its classics to use for new and reimagined projects. Some films could be considered cash grabs, but hopefully some have enough substance and originality to elevate them above the riffraff. Director Jon Favreau's new live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book undoubtedly stands apart from its predecessors while still sticking to the beloved stories by Rudyard Kipling. Here are a few things the latest Jungle Book has in store for its viewers:
1. The Darker Tone
For those who are unfamiliar with the classic collection of stories, The Jungle Book is about a young boy named Mowgli who has been raised by a pack of wolves in the Indian jungle. Orphaned as a baby, he was protected by a black panther named Bagheera. Along with the wolf pack he considers his family, Mowgli follows the "law of the jungle," until a threat by Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger feared by all, gives him a reason to leave what he has known his whole life in search of other humans.
He embarks on a journey with Bagheera at his side. An adventure ensues as he meets new faces and encounters dangerous situations. This version of The Jungle Book has much more violence and danger thrown into the mix, a tactic I am sure will appeal to older viewers. The tone also adds a fresh feel to the film, portraying a sense of urgency and action that results in amazing visual sequences.
2. The Familiar Voices
Favreau clearly used his Hollywood connections for the star-studded voices in the film. If you go into the movie unaware of who is involved, you could find yourself thinking that many of the characters sound familiar. The voice-over cast includes:
- Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, the black panther who finds an orphaned baby Mowgli and acts as his protector
- Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, the leader of the wolf pack that adopts Mowgli as one of their own
- Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha, the mother wolf who is very protective of Mowgli and treats him as one of her cubs
- Idris Elba as Shere Khan, the fearsome Bengal tiger
- Bill Murray as Baloo, the goofy bear who Mowgli befriends on his journey
- Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, a huge snake that Mowgli encounters
- Christopher Walken as King Louie, a great ape who rules all the monkeys in the jungle
3. The Nostalgia
The 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book was inspired by the stories written by Rudyard Kipling, only with a much lighter tone. Favreau's adaptation uses both key elements of the stories and a tone that better represents Kipling's original works. The characters are still true to the source material, only darker. Fans of the 1967 animated film may ask: What about the songs? Don't worry, a few light-hearted moments were thrown in there. Specifically, a rendition of "The Bare Necessities" featuring Mowgli and Baloo.
4. The New Mowgli
From a visual standpoint, this movie is stunning. Seeing it in IMAX 3-D is an immersive experience that makes you feel as if you were thrown into the jungle along with Mowgli. The minutely detailed action sequences featuring the animals are astonishing. However, the truly winning aspect of The Jungle Book is the boy who plays Mowgli. Neel Sethi had only ever appeared in one short before taking on the mammoth role of the young man-cub, which is unbelievable considering how he leads the movie with such sure-footedness. Being pretty much the only flesh-and-bones person to appear in the movie might be intimidating, but it never seemed to faze Sethi. He showed a huge range in terms of acting, and as the film's casting director Sarah Finn told Varitey when the the-10-year old was cast, Sethi embodies “the heart, humor, and daring of the character. He’s warm and accessible, yet also has an intelligence well beyond his years and impressed us all with his ability to hold his own in any situation. Even though he has no professional acting experience, his natural charisma and instincts jumped out at us.”
I would give the movie two opposable thumbs up as it stayed true to Kipling's original works, yet included a fresh take to keep viewers engaged. This is a must-see for film fans of all ages — but be warned, there are jump scares. Did you ever think that would happen from a Disney movie? Neither did I!
'The Jungle Book' hits theaters Friday, April 15 and can be seen in 3-D, IMAX and IMAX 3-D formats.
(Sources: IMDb, Variety)