To be honest when a remake of The Jungle Book was announced I didn’t really have big expectations. I could barely remember the 1967 film, and the 1993 series on Doordarshan was a sweet moment of my childhood that I didn’t really feel the need to revisit. Back then by the time Mowgli became popular with other kids I’d already finished the series and moved on like a hipster to Swat Kats and The Centurions.
So when Jon Favereau was attached to direct a big budget remake, I was skeptical. How, in this day and age can you make a good movie with storytelling elements that belong in the 60s? It’s a story about a kid who grows up in a jungle with animals. It just wouldn’t work, I thought. I was so wrong. Not only is Favreau’s The Jungle Book a stunning visual spectacle but also a surprisingly intelligent, nuanced and at times genuinely scary movie that holds your attention and just never lets go.
The first lesson to be learned in The Jungle Book is to not judge screenwriters by just one film. Justin Marks, who has earlier written the legendarily horrendous (and the so bad it’s awesome) Street Fighter The Legend of Chun Li, takes you right into the story with all your favourite characters.
Mowgli (Neel Sethi) swings around branches, hanging out with his family of wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyongo) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Mentoring him is his friend and teacher, the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley).
And before you even stop to look at the insane visuals on display Shere Khan (Idris Elba) shows up with spine chilling demeanor and coolly threatens to exterminate Mowgli because he’s a human and doesn’t belong in the jungle.
I cannot emphasize how important the scene of Shere Khan’s entry in the film is, to both the filmmakers and the audience. In The Jungle Book series the selling point for the audience has always been Shere Khan’s voice and menthol cool villainy. And when the tiger arrives in this movie your jaws drop. You’ve never seen CGI of this high quality before, and the tiger’s scowling, scarred face makes the hair on the back of your neck stand.
When the tiger roars ‘let me remind you that a man-cub becomes a man, and man is forbidden!’ you realize you’re beginning to feel fear, no matter how old you are. This is a scary bad guy. There’s a moment later in the film when Shere Khan brutally attacks another character – it builds up as a jump scare and when it happens it works against your underwear. Pahlaj Nihalani might have given a U/A certificate to this film for this particular scene.
Another moment that gets your heart in your mouth is when Kaa the giant snake (Scarlett Johanson) wraps Mowgli like a subway sandwich and hypnotizes him. It’s ballsy of Disney to go against their own rules and make a family film that has some pretty edgy moments.
But it’s not all a horror movie – there’s a lot of fun to be had, mainly courtesy of Baloo voiced by Bill Murray. Everything you remember and love about The Jungle Book is captured accurately in Murray’s portrayal of the jovial, lazy and exceedingly funny bear. If you like the ‘Bear Necessities’ song you’re in for a treat – and the Hindi version has a new rendition of ‘Chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai’ to whet your nostalgic appetite.
The film ends on an iconic image and you’ll leave with the biggest grin on your face, remembering how awesome your childhood was, and thanking this film for making your relive it for two fun hours. The second time you watch this film you’ll want to figure out how they managed to crank out a CGI jungle so well. The 3D experience would depend on the quality of the glasses but it’s best to see the film in pristine 2D to admire the beautiful computer rendered landscapes.
Neel Sethi, the only human character in the film is perfectly cast and is on the verge of becoming a major star. Apart from being a great movie The Jungle Book is also another big triumph for Disney. It seems whatever Disney touches turns to gold. It’s hard to think of another studio that has had so much universal acclaim and financial success for such a long stretch of time. With Moana and Rogue One coming later this year it certainly seems like Disney has made sure we’re in for a ton of fun.