In a cinematic era filled with remakes, reboots, sequels, and endless nostalgia, Disney has fully embraced the trend. Already creating live-action adaptations of its beloved Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty twist in Maleficent, they continue on with the live-action adaptation of their 1967 classic cartoon The Jungle Book.
Of course, much like fire, anytime you tamper with nostalgic properties there’s a good chance you’ll get burned, or worse, burn down the jungle. And it’s one thing to make it through unscathed, but quite another to create a bonfire that warms an entire village. It’s safe to say this movie achieved the latter. Director Jon Favreau’s vision for The Jungle Book not only stayed faithful to the original material, but it improved on it, making it a thrilling, action-packed experience without sacrificing its humorous charm and likability.
Directed by Favreau and written by Justin Marks, The Jungle Book is about the man-cub Mowgli, a little boy raised by wolves in the jungle — when the tiger Shere Khan demands they hand him over, arguing that a man shouldn’t be in the jungle, the wolf pack must make a difficult decision whether to send Mowgli away. Bagheera says he will take Mowgli to the nearest man village where he will be safe and so starts Mowgli’s journey.
Despite all the state-of-the-art technology and CGI, and make no mistake it’s really good, what truly impressed me was the writing. Marks and Favreau did a great job crafting a story that stuck to the original while diverting into other areas, but were still able to keep the narrative on track, making it more interesting than the original. Everything they added felt intentional and necessary to the story. The elements they removed from the old cartoon improved the story and they made sure to keep the best pieces stuff from the original, too. Again, doing this is a difficult tight rope, and they walked it well. Instead of Mowgli wandering around in the jungle randomly, there’s a lot more purpose behind the adventure and the beats in the story are tightened and finely tuned.
Mowgli, played by Neel Sethi, goes beyond the clueless and bumbling character we knew in the cartoon and digs a little deeper. While Mowgli still has a lot to learn, especially in the common sense department, we find out more about his character including his “tricks” that are forbidden by Bagheera and the wolf pack.
Mowgli’s character becomes useful to not only Baloo, but also to other animals in the jungle, heightening his role from the helpless, whiney nuisance that Bagheera wants to abandon all the time, to a brave and clever hero, willing to take on greatest of challenges. Because of this change, you can connect with Mowgli much more than you ever could in the cartoon. However, the biggest downside to Mowgli was the performance by Neel Sethi. His performance lacked consistency with too many sketchy moments of poor line delivery, over acting, and flat acting.
This film provides a great escape for the whole family back into a familiar story full of danger, laughter, love, and excitement. It would have been easy for Favreau to play it safe and follow the old cartoon line by line. Thankfully, he didn’t stick to the bare necessities, but went further, and in doing so, created a new classic in the making.
Images courtesy of: Disney