A rejuvenating touch to a Disney classic, Favreau moves us with a darker, yet memorable, telling of the man-cub Mowgli’s adventure.
There’s always that unease that comes with adaptations or remakes. Will the same thing work again, or just backfire and be a flop? Not gonna lie, we had these very uncertainties with Disney’s latest adaptation, “The Jungle Book (2016)”. Glad to say, director Jon Favreau made us remember just why we loved the 1967 Disney animated classic to begin with.
Orphaned at a young age, Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) is taken in by Indian wolves and raised as one of their own, although he doesn’t fit in very well. When the widely feared Bengal tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), returns to the jungle to save Mowgli’s life after having suffered horrific scars from his encounters with man, Mowgli is forced to flee the jungle. Taking responsibility as the one who brought Mowgli to the jungle, the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) sets off with Mowgli on a journey back to the man village, where along the away, Mowgli figures out, through adversities thrown at him by the harsh jungle, who he is, and where he truly belongs.
Favreau’s telling of the age-old story brings a sense of nostalgia to fans of the original film, incorporating that same bit of fun and thrill as the audience walks with Mowgli in the jungle, and watch him interact and live with the other animals. This 2016 version retains the light-hearted comedic value, though with more clever jokes that really caught us by surprise, most of them delivered by our favourite papa bear, Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray).
A thing that strikingly sets Favreau’s version apart from the original is the added grit and darker moments that are incorporated, which adds food for thought for the audience. We appreciate how Favreau took into consideration the theme of rejection and isolation of an orphan, highlighting this more in his movie and making it more relatable to the audience. Instead of just drawing material from the first Disney film, Favreau made sure to pay homage to the original 1894 text by Rudyard Kipling by putting a twist to the novel’s ‘Law of the Jungle’, and creating his own version that is pretty catchy to recite, if we do say so ourselves.
As Favreau puts it, a chef needs to have good ingredients, so parallel to that, a director needs a good cast. In our opinion, The Jungle Book’s casting was spot on. We loved that laid back, carefree attitude that Murray gave to Baloo, and Johansson’s slow, sultry voice behind the hypnotic python Kaa definitely got us to trust her. While we’re tied for best onscreen vocal performance between Kingsley’s assertive tone in Bahgeera and Elba’s menacing style, we have to give Christopher Walken a special prize for adding a very unexpected kind of personality to the massive Bornean orangutan, King Louie.
Though we were not really sold at the beginning, it didn’t take us long to take a liking to 12-year-old Neel Sethi. We liked how unlike the animated film, more focus was put into highlighting Mowgli’s unique traits, which not only was crucial in him figuring out his place in the jungle, but also made Mowgli more interesting as a character and more likeable to us.
Being one of the only real life roles in the film, Sethi’s job as the energetic jungle boy was pretty physically demanding, as he had to do all the stunts himself. (After working on this movie, we wouldn’t be surprised if Sethi took up parkour as a hobby) More impressively, Sethi did not get the chance to work with the other actors most of the time, but just with his very own papa bear Favreau, who guided him through his very first acting stint (ever), and – here’s the strangest part – puppets as substitutes for his fellow animals.
So, although the modest boy from New York says that he was merely just doing whatever Favreau asked of him, we think he deserves a bit more credit than he gives himself. Plus, he’s just adorable as Mowgli!
It is undeniable that the film was very picturesque, and with the added experience of watching it in IMAX 3D (which we highly recommend), it felt as if we were truly living and breathing in the jungle. We left the cinema with so many questions about just how the visual spectacle was shot, and while we were expecting to find something along the lines of “months in the Indian jungle terrain”, we were quite off with our guesses.
According to Favreau on Twitter during a live Q&A session,
— Jon Favreau (@Jon_Favreau) September 15, 2015
Hang on, no outdoor shooting at all? With just some sets, puppets, a boy, and a ton of visual effects? Pretty much. As cast member Kingsley credits, one of the greatest things about Favreau is that he certainly does not lack “a diminished imagination”. Much research was done by Favreau beforehand to make his jungle as realistic as it could be. Other than pouring out time to study the practices of the Indian villagers to give some authenticity to Mowgli’s many ‘tricks’, the director paid close attention to the movement of each of the jungle animals to make their actions and behaviours as fluid and lifelike as possible.
All that research, with the animation and VFX skills he had picked up from his previous works Iron Man (2008) and Elf (2003), Favreau brought The Jungle Book world to life. Two beautiful sceneries that definitely stuck in our memories were the dilapidated yet still majestic-looking ‘palace’ of King Louie, the wet, slippery home of the snake Kaa deep in the treacherous jungle, and Baloo and Mowgli swimming down the river happily singing their version of the Disney favourite, ‘Bare Necessities’. (Which, may we add, got us singing too.)
For a world constructed completely out of CGI and takes from a soundstage, The Jungle Book has us very impressed. Apart from being entertained by Mowgli and friends’ fun antics in the jungle, in just 105 minutes, Favreau managed to make us fear for our lives, sad when there was grieving and conflict, and most of us, gain new insights.
A great retelling and nostalgic trip for the older generation, and a new story to grow up with and admire for the new generation, The Jungle Book is a real treat. One thing’s for sure – we’ll be humming the tunes of ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ for a while now, in beat with the jungle rhythm.
DANamic.ORG Rating: 4/5
Photos courtesy of Disney