No matter how old we grow, there is always that small part of us that doesn’t age. It’s the part of us that cheers when the Swat Kats take to the air, hums as the Scooby-doo theme song comes on and laughs when Jerry flings another egg onto Tom’s angry face.
It’s this ‘kiddie’ part of us, that some of us may not even have realized still existed, which is so expertly triggered by Disney’s The Jungle Book, starring Neel Sethi as Mowgli, and the likes of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba, among others.
I suppose there is no need for me to recap the story of Jungle Book for anyone. I mean, if you don’t know the Jungle Book, did you even have a childhood? Briefly put, it is the story of a young kid named Mowgli (man-cub, as everyone calls him), who is raised by wolves and hunted by the tiger, Shere Khan.
WOOS: Kipling’s Jungle Book remains an enduring piece of fiction because it paints a world of vivid descriptions and alliterations, a world so peaceful in its own beauty that it would have been very difficult to imagine such a world, yet alone re-create it. And yet somehow, director Jon Favreau (of Iron Man fame) somehow pulls it off. The visuals are achingly beautiful, and the world he creates on screen is as strikingly inviting as it seems real to the audience. Not since Gravity has a film so beautifully put an environment to screen.
However, Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks never lets his visuals overwhelm the human and anthropomorphic characters he brings to screen. Like I noted before, if you’ve read Kipling’s book of short stories or seen the 1967 version, or even the Doordarshan version, you are well acquainted with the story. And yet, it still feels fresh. There are subtle changes in structure the 2016 version makes, even as it imbibes its characters with some more emotional and thematic depth. The film may not tread new territory in the form of a new story but, it treats its story with a rare intelligence.
Neel Sethi as Mowgli is great on screen and yet, as it should be, it is the brilliant voice cast that deserves most of the credit. Murray brings to Baloo, the wit and humour, like only he can. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is impressive too, and so is Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, the mother wolf. Christopher Walken as Louie is credible, and so is Scarlett Johansson.
And then, there is Idris Elba, the man many argued could not play Bond because apparently, he was ‘too street.’ As the voice behind Shere Khan, Elba laces every word of his with a palpable danger and urgency (Ably helped out by a great realization of the tiger on screen). In fact, you can feel the hair on your knuckles standing up whenever Khan speaks in that cold, silky voice of his. Watch out for a scene between Khan and Raksha, over an analogy of Cuckoo birds. It has the same sense of claustrophobic anxiety as any of those memorable exchanges between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Sterling.
MEHS: I’d hate to find faults in something which brought back to me fond memories of childhood. Sadly, I’m obliged to. Yes, there are some, although a lot of it is owing to my own habit of nitpicking.
Shere Khan is a terrific villain, a Scar for this generation, if I may. However, the stakes Mowgli finds stacked against himself by Shere Khan are never consistently urgent as they should be. Or maybe, it has to do with the fact that the momentum slows a notch as soon as the film shifts from Khan to Mowgli and Baloo. I realize that is something the film couldn’t do without but still, it’s just a tad underwhelming on that score.
I have always loved the Jungle Book music, and the re-invented songs for the 2016 version do not disappoint either. However, there is not much of it. ‘Bare Necessities’ is over before you realize, and most of the other classics do not make it until after the film has ended.
See, I told you I’d be nitpicking.
VERDICT: Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book does what few films can claim to have done. It re-invents and re-creates an oft-told tale and presents it equally, with delicate freshness and depth to both an audience which grew up with Jungle Book, as well as an audience watching it for the first time. The Jungle Book is childhood re-imagined and re-lived, and nostalgia is not the only feeling you’ll walk out of the theatre with.
P.S: I’ll say it. Censor Board chief Pahlaj ‘Sanskaari’ Nihalani was right with the U/A certification for the film. It has a lot of dark and some disturbing imagery and themes which might be unsuitable for children below the age of 12. It may be considered ‘scary,’ for kids at least.
On the other hand, Mr. Nihalani gave a U certificate to ‘Bajirao Mastani.’ Confused? Go figure.
By the way, 2016 has already been a good year for films. Check this out if you want to learn more about the films this year: 8 Upcoming Movies That Are Going To Rock The World In 2016