The Jungle Book (3D)
Directed by John Favreau
Screenplay by Justin Marks
Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling
Music by John Debney
Neel Sethi as Mowgli
with the voices of:
Bill Murray – Baloo
Ben Kingsley – Bagheera
Idris Elba – Shere Khan
Lupita Nyong’o – Raksha
Scarlet Johansson – Kaa
Christopher Walken – King Louie
Gary Shandling – Ikki
Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), fearsome until he speaks!
When the Disney cartoon version of The Jungle Book came out in 1967, the last thing I was interested in seeing was a cartoon based on Kipling. I came back to Disney with my own kids in their best-ever period – Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, Lion King. My personal golden age of Disney was earlier, so while audiences thrilled to Louis Prima doing I Wanna Be Like You, and on single (but not soundtrack) Louis Armstrong doing The Bare Necessities, by 1968 I was listening to Dr John The Night Tripper doing Gris Gris.
So here we are in 2016, nearly fifty years on, and I’m still listening to Dr John (& The Nite Trippers this time) and he’s singing The Bare Necessities in the new version of The Jungle Book. Phew. The Circle of Life … sorry, wrong Disney jungle and wrong singer. It’s not Dr John’s first Disney either – he sang Down In New Orleans (written by Randy Newman) in The Princess & The Frog in 2009.
The song soundtrack no longer dominates, though a lush orchestral score does. We just get The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You, and a touch of Trust In Me (The Python Song). No Colonel Hathi’s March, No That’s What Friends Are For, No My Own Home. Looking this up informed me that a young and uncredited Van Dyke Parks arranged the original Bare Necessities.
Neel Sethi is a perfect Mowgli
The animation is along the lines of The Life of Pi – very much so as both feature an Indian boy and a tiger. In other words it’s realistic animals, but somehow the “Wow!” factor was diluted here because they talk. As soon as they start talking, your brain switches to cartoon reality. In The Life of Pi you can accept that this is an actual tiger. No amount of artfully flicking ears or twitching whiskers make you think that when it’s talking.
You know the story … at least the Disney story, but while this has drawn on the 1967 Disney, it has also reinstated chunks of the original Kipling book. I realized that I never saw the 1967 on a big screen. I probably didn’t see it at all until I watched it with my kids. I know we had the Betamax, then the VHS and we have the DVD now for our grandkids. Obviously it’s scarier with apparently real animals, but there’s a lot of comedy in the lines. It’s also as good as 3D gets with very little of the silly bird of paradise flying right up your nose overdone 3D stuff.
Mowgli is hypnotised by Kaa (voiced by Scarlet Johansson)
I found it amusing that people list anthropological bloomers on line, especially as the producers deliberately avoided an orang-utang for King Louie as they’re not found in India. It doesn’t need pointing out that furry brown bears don’t exist in India, that Indian elephants aren’t that big either. That was true right back to Kipling and beside the point. Animals DON’T TALK EITHER dummies! It’s a fantasy, a Disney animation, not David Attenborough. Someone claims the animals are disproportionately large – um, would that be to make Mowgli look smaller? Examining plot lines or how long it might have taken Mowgli to get from A to B is silly in the situation.
Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and Mowgli in the monkey temple
One strange effect, on Googling images for this review, the still images look completely fake when derived of motion. They look far realer onscreen.
I wonder about the Disneyfication of animals, which Walt started back in the late 1920s. The effect of Disneyfication, that is transferring human emotions and thoughts to animals, is made worse by 3D realistic looking animals. I think it skews human attitudes to animals, especially as these as are so democratic when water is short and so law-abiding too. There is more than before on Mowgli’s human manipulative skills with tools and inventions, so that he’s kind of a Connecticut Mowgli at King Shere Khan’s Court. Kipling always had that “man is the most dangerous of the animals” aspect.
I was surprised that our child companions were not totally knocked out by it. The ten and twelve year old both thought it ‘very good’ but no more and the five year old thought a lot “too dark” in the jungle and “a bit long.” I enjoyed it, but then the 60s animation mode of the earlier one never took off for me either … I thought it a definite downgrade compared to the 1940s and 1950s animations. I can see that differences will be an issue with someone who saw the original as a child … which means those younger than me.