12-18 August 2016 #821

The jungle book

The film manages to portray the real tenderness between human and animal.
Sophia Pande

Having myself missed this year’s The Jungle Book on the big screen, I will immediately underline that this is not a film to watch on a plane, or on your computer. The newest Walt Disney production is a live action film augmented with glorious computer-generated images, creating a stunning, if somewhat overly Disney-fied jungle world that pulls the viewer in, leaving us rapt in the wonders that have captivated children and adults alike since Rudyard Kipling’s stories of the Indian jungle were first animated in 1967 — also, of course, by Disney.

I have oft-bemoaned the lack of original source material that has necessitated the recent slew of remakes and spin-offs in mainstream cinema; in light of these intellectual property constraints, The Jungle Book’s new iteration has done incredibly well for its investors, grossing an astonishing $941 million (to date) to its already very high $175 million budget — an indicator that will undoubtedly have most studio executives casting around wildly in their archives for the next big remake.

While the visuals are exquisite, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book hews just a bit too closely to its charming predecessor, but without the same amount of verve. Adaptations and remakes of old classics are tricky, most can never shake off the shadow of the original, with film-makers hesitating to change that which worked so well the first time. Unfortunately, erring on the side of caution also results in boring, predictable repetition that is anathema to the pickier viewer, and I will warn those with lower thresholds that you will find yourself feeling slightly irritable every time this overly cutsie Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) gleefully crows and preens over the long-suffering Bagheera (voiced wonderfully by the immensely versatile, always great Ben Kingsley).

While the new The Jungle Book is far from being a total loss, it is a shame that a film with so much talent could not have at least equalled its predecessor. With Bill Murray voicing Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha (Mowgli’s wolf mother), and Idris Elba as Shere Khan, the film has moments of transcendent beauty, hilarity, and a sense of wonder. It manages to portray the real tenderness between human and animal that made The Jungle Book so special in the first place. Unfortunately there is always an awareness that something is missing, something new.

Perhaps the better way to introduce your children to this classic is to go back first to Kipling’s volume of short stories, which include treasures such as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and only then turn towards this remake, after having introduced the older animated version which, at least in my mind, is so much sweeter than this new shiny, expensive, slightly empty beast.

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