“Come on, Mowgli. Let’s be on our way,” says Bagheera. Mowgli says, “But I’m helping Baloo get ready for hibernation.” Bagheera replies, “Bears don’t hibernate in the jungle.” Baloo responds, “Not full hibernation, but I nap a lot.”
There have been a few adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over the years. There’s Zoltan Korda’s Oscar-nominated 1942 film Jungle Book, Wolfgang Reitherman’s Oscar-nominatd 1967 animated film The Jungle Book, Stephen Sommers’ lackluster 1994 film The Jungle Book, Duncan McLachlan’s even more lackluster 1997 film The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo, and Carlos Saldanha’s straight-to-video 1998 film The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story (not to mention Steve Trenbirth’s 2003 film The Jungle Book 2, a sequel to the 1967 Disney animated film). A few years ago, Disney announced that a new live action version would be made, one that would also be a remake of sorts of its own 1967 film, and that it would be directed by Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2. I recently saw an advanced showing of Favreau’s The Jungle Book, and it was a thrilling experience (my only regret was that I didn’t see it in 3D, which I bet would’ve looked insanely amazing).
2016’s The Jungle Book follows a man-cub named Mowgli, who’s been raised by a pack of wolves in an Indian jungle, as he accompanies a black panther on a journey to find the man village after an extremely dangerous tiger threatens Mowgli’s life. Favreau assembled an outstanding cast that includes Neel Sethi (as Mowgli), Bill Murray (as the voice of Baloo), Ben Kingsley (as the voice of Bagheera), Idris Elba (as the voice of Shere Khan), Lupita Nyong’o (as the voice of Raksha), Scarlett Johansson (as the voice of Kaa), Giancarlo Esposito (as the voice of Akela), Christopher Walken (as the voice of King Louie), Garry Shandling (as the voice of Ikki the Porcupine), Favreau (as the voice of Pygmy Hog), Sam Raimi (as the voice of Giant Squirrel), and Russell Peters (as the voice of Rocky the Rhino). Sethi turns in a remarkable performance as the young Mowgli, bringing courage and determination to the role. Murray is a hoot as Baloo, Kingsley is militant as Bagheera, and Elba is menacing as Shere Khan.
The screenplay by Justin Marks, based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling, features an engrossing tale of self-discovery as Mowgli grows as a person over the course of the film (with some elements from The Lion King and Apocalypto thrown in as well). Bill Pope’s cinematography reflects the tone of the film, and the production design by Christopher Glass and Abhijeet Mazumder is impressive (the various, dense areas of the jungle, the man village, etc.). Mark Livolsi’s editing keeps the film moving at a good pace without sacrificing suspense and intensity. The special effects are top-notch, creating an entirely convincing digital jungle environment (ultra high quality work reminiscent of James Cameron’s Avatar, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity) as well as photorealistic animals.
John Debney delivers an adventurous score with some Indian instrumentation added to reflect the story’s setting, and three songs from the 1967 Disney animated film are incorporated into this film version (Johansson’s performance of Trust In Me is hynoptic, Sethi and Murray’s performance of The Bare Necessities is very enjoyable, and Walken’s performance of I Wanna Be Like You is my favorite of the three). Favreau’s The Jungle Book is a breathtaking, beautifully rendered live action remake of Disney’s 1967 animated musical as well as adaptation of Kipling’s stories that features a thrilling coming-of-age adventure and sets a new standard for CGI.