Calluses are the name of the game. Not rocks, nor twigs, nor those insufferable burrs can slow Mowgli down when he’s on the run. The trick to surviving in the jungle, it seems, is to run fast, jump butt-first, and learn to speak wolf. They say kids absorb information like sponges, and even though Mowgli is headstrong, his ears were clearly open during porcupine language training. For a fish out of water (or a man-cub out of the village) Mowgli does a surprisingly good job of fitting into the jungle scene. But you know what they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, bring fire into the woods and burn it all to the ground… Is that what they say?
The Jungle Book revives another classic Disney from our VHS childhoods. Mowgli (Neer Sethi) is a man-cub lost in the jungle and literally raised by wolves. The wolves accept him as one of their own and teach Mowgli their ways, including the language of the wild… which is helpful to know when you need the thirsty rhino to scoot over a tad. The only member of the jungle community who’s against Mowgli’s presence is, unfortunately, at the top of the food chain. The vicious tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), doesn’t just want Mowgli out – he wants him dead. The wolves and Mowgli’s guardian, Bagheera the panther (voiced by Ben Kingsley), can only protect Mowgli for so long, leaving the boy with the difficult choice to either stay and fight or leave his home and never return.
I am ten colours of impressed with Neer Sethi. It’s not just because he captures the daring, adventurous, creative spirit of Mowgli, but because he spent the entire filming process capturing it with a green screen. He leapt from green ledge to green beam, stared dumbfounded at green walls, and rode on mighty green contraptions while the director and crew watched the jungle come to life on their monitors. Even so, The Jungle Book swept me away. It’s hard to put that much CGI in a film and not make it distracting, but The Jungle Book pulls it off. The talking animals never feel “real”, but they are just the right mix of lusciously thick fur and magic.
What really makes them come alive, behind all that light-softening and angle-smoothing, are the voices. Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) is exactly what you want Baloo to be: chill, lazy, and a powerful friend. Next to him, you can almost hear Ben Kingsley facepalm behind the mic every time Mowgli does something so very… Mowgli. The threat in Shere Khan, the seduction in Raa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and the mother in Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) all come through, clear as glass, in these powerful characters. It’s a beautiful way to bring the cartoon to life and modernise it to fit today’s cinematic trends.
That spirit of boyhood adventure, however, is still front and centre, swinging from dead trees and sliding off muddy cliffs. The plot’s ups and downs are punctuated by daring escapes, clever inventions, and emotional family time. The Jungle Book really does have it all. The music from the original Disney musical is, for the most part, absent, but in all this seems a smart choice. Where music fits in, it fits in, like it was meant to be there rather than jammed in as a… side note.
This is a classic retelling of The Jungle Book which both does justice to the original feature and fancies it up a bit for today’s sparkle-addicted crowds. It’s just super. I’m still hesitant to say it was mind-blowing because, while I enjoyed everything about it, it didn’t wow my socks off. It fits an adventurous, kind of happy, dark horse sort of mood. The Jungle Book, remade, is about an 8/10.