As a child, watching Wolfgang Reitherman’s 1967 film made me fall in love with Mowgli the man cub, living the life of a wild animal in a deep, dark forest. And now, Jon Favreau’s live-action Disney epic adventure, The Jungle Book, brings the young hero to life once again, re-imagined for today’s audiences.
The film gives new meaning to the concept of 3-D, and is well worth the increase in ticket price. It draws audiences into the belly of the forest, with deep green trees pressing in all around them and wildlife pouring across the screen. Just like Mowgli (Neel Sethi), viewers will be thrust into a first-person view, feeling as if they are crawling on the forest floor as they live by the rules of the forest.
The film’s plot remains close to the 1967 animated film: A human child, Mowgli, is abandoned in a forest. Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a black leopard, delivers him to a pack of wolves that adopt him. Shere-Khan (Idris Elba), a wicked tiger, demands the man-cub for himself. But the wolves banish Mowgli to a man-village when the tiger turns bloodthirsty. It’s all strikingly familiar, but fresh and vibrant at the same time.
What’s different in this adaptation of the story is the slow development of Mowgli as he comes of age by facing the dangerous forest all alone. Depicted through acts of bravery and self sacrifice, Favreau’s The Jungle Book is a true tale of discovery. For Mowgli, it’s as much about discovering the human inside the animal, as it is about the animal inside the human.
Emotion is the center seat of this tale. Fear, friendship, power, love, honesty, betrayal, and kindness are all feelings that kids—along with Mowgli—will learn to distinguish.
Some scenes may be a bit intense for younger viewers. Like an instance when Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) the snake hypnotizes Mowgli, tightly wrapping her tail around him while spewing a chilling tale of his father’s tragic death. But overall the film delivers a visually stunning, feel-good experience.
Special kudos goes to the voice actors, including Bill Murray (Baloo) for his playful rendition of a mischievous bear and Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), whose hissing sounded undeniably menacing and lethal throughout the film.
Bill Pope’s painting-like cinematography colors the narrative from beginning to the end. Dark canvases paint a life-like texture to the forest, highlighted by contrasting colors like red and yellow. This treatment gives the film a dark vibe, but just like the Harry Potter series conveys the brilliance of life through a fight against the dark forces, The Jungle Book celebrates the abundance of it.
The film brings man to the level of the beast. Both live like equals—an important lesson for kids to learn. In fact, the entire film will make kids feel like they are living in a village of animals with unique personalities—not just talking creatures. Overall, The Jungle Book is a must-watch, full of alluring beasts of all shapes and sizes. But in the end, it’s not the size of the beast that matters, it’s believing in our own self worth that will make you king of the forest.