While fans of Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book tend to remember the upbeat songs (surely you remember “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”), fans of the new version, which opens this Friday, April 15, will likely remember the stunning visuals.
This film, masterfully directed by Jon Favreau, is a true wonder. Darker and somewhat more frightening than the original, it was also more action-packed and I was mesmerized by how realistic so much of it was. Yes, I said realistic—no easy feat for a live action/animated hybrid.
But it truly felt all immersive (the 3D no doubt helped). The details are remarkable. One could practically taste the honey, feel the scratch of the tiger’s claws, and smell the dreaded “red flower” aka “man fire.” It was completely entertaining.
Let’s start with Mowgli—the “man cub” raised by wolves, played by adorable newcomer Neel Sethi. The only live action character in the entire film, Sethi manages to hold his own in a CGI universe populated by such acting legends as Bill Murray (as the lovable yet manipulative bear, Baloo), Christopher Walken (as the quirky yet the frightful giant orangutan, King Louie), Idris Elba (as the evil tiger, Shere Khan), Sir Ben Kingsley (as Mowgli’s protector, the black panther Bagheera), Scarlett Johansson (as the sly serpent, Kaa), and Lupita Nyong’o (as Mowgli’s loving wolf mother, Raksha).
Sethi’s enormous brown eyes and natural, breezy attitude add to his appeal, but it’s Murray who steals the show. He is perfectly cast as the conniving, yet endearing, bear who coerces Mowgli into such feats as extracting honey from hives buzzing with bees.
The storyline is basically the same as the Rudyard Kipling book and earlier Disney version—to keep his wolf pride safe and escape the wrath of Shere Khan, Mowgli must leave the jungle and go to the man village where he belongs, but the adventures he encounters along the way, even the scary ones like being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, or captured by a band of mischievous monkeys, only seem to make him love the jungle even more.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s different from the 1967 version. As the saying goes, “You can take the man out of nature, but you can't take the nature out of man.”
I'll just add that sometimes, you can’t even take the man out of nature.