The Jungle Book (dir. Jon Favreau, 2016) is a third adaptation of the Mowgli stories of Rudyard Kipling. The basis for the film is four stories, two from The Jungle Book (1894) and two from The Second Jungle Book (1895). Disney produced an animated version of these stories in 1967. This second adaptation by Disney utilizes the “Bear Necessities” song from the earlier film. What I especially liked about this film was the character Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray, and a giant ape, King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken. These two characters, especially Murray’s character, are worth the entire film. Murray and Waken in these roles do little more than play themselves, or at least their cinematic personae, which are well suited to their parts. Murray as the lazy, overstuffed bear who manipulates Mowgli into retrieving honey from a beehive high on a cliff is funny. In spite of himself, he grows to like the “man-cub.”
In general terms, the film is fairly faithful to the Kipling stories. The animation is ultra-realistic. This is both a virtue (it’s fun to watch) and a fault (a certain level of imagination and fantasy is removed). This isn’t a film that young children should necessarily watch—it has moments of violence and death, and Mowgli is constantly in danger from the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). For adults, on the other hand, once the novelty of the animation wears off, things move rather slowly. Mowgli’s friendship with Baloo, his kidnapping by a tribe of monkeys (with King Louie as their king), and a frightening scene in which Mowgli is nearly seduced and consumed by the python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) provide moments when the film becomes more interesting.
Compared to Mowgli, the animals in the film are over-sized, much larger than the boy, much larger than they would be in reality (but does reality matter?). Although this was probably done to make them more interesting, it seemed deceptive to me. Then again, this is an animated film based on fictional stories about animals who talk.
Although Mowgli lacks the physical prowess of the animals in this film, he uses his resourceful human intelligence to devise various schemes that serve the best interests of the jungle. He’s a good imperialist.
Warner Brothers has slated release for a live-action version of The Jungle Book in 2018. What a surfeit of delight.