If you’re like me, you probably had a healthy dose of skepticism when you heard about this one. Most of my childhood was set on a background of classic Disney movies, and the The Jungle Book movie was one of their best. I was too young to even really remember what the story was actually about; I just knew there was a half naked boy running around the jungle with a fat bear, a very high snake, and an angry tiger. Oh, and some monkeys who swing danced with coconut shells as bras.
This 2016 remake follows much of the same outline. Mowgli is a boy whose father was killed by a tiger named Shere Kan. He is rescued by Bagheera, a panther, and raised in a pack of wolves as one of their own. When Shere Kan sees Mowgli many years later, he vows to hunt him down to finish him off. Mowgli must then abandon his wolf family and flee into the jungle where he nearly dies many times. It’s really amazing how this boy stayed alive to see his 10th birthday, with half the jungle trying to kill him.
The Jungle Book is a simple tale of adventure. But in a way, its linear plot is merely a tool to display the rich and vibrant jungle world that Jon Favreau, the director, has created. Firstly, wow is the CGI amazing. Essentially the entire jungle, and all its characters, were created on a computer, and as long as you weren’t looking at it too hard, you couldn’t tell. The line between animation and live action movies appears to be blurring before our very eyes, and soon moviemakers won’t have to leave Hollywood to create set pieces of any corner of the world. But it wasn’t just the visuals that were jaw dropping – the entire world was steeped in tradition, history, and folklore, giving the impression that the jungle is both much older and much bigger than the screen lets on. There are mythical rules called ‘Laws of the Land’ which all animals obey by. Elephants are Gods that roam the Earth that creatures bow to. And when there is too little water, all animals will call a truce from eating each other so that they can go to the same watering hole to drink. If only humans were that civilized to each other.
By far the best feature about this movie was its rich and diverse characters – each with their own culture, and their own personality that make each scene so interesting. Bears are con artists that scam unsuspecting prepubescent boys into stealing honey. Hedgehogs are brainless creatures that, in my professional opinion, need some anxiety treatment. Wolves are a cult that say a pledge everyday to ensure they stay sufficiently brainwashed. Animals talk in this movie – but not all of them! It’s confusing what the rules surrounding the gift of speech is. Monkeys can’t, but hedgehogs can. Rhinos yes, but not elephants? But of course, the bad guy is the one with a British accent. You can’t forget to put in that.
Speaking of accents, there’s this one weird scene where Mowgli meets King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken. He’s this giant monkey with a face in the shape of a frying pan who is rich and powerful, and threatens Mowgli to work with him. He does all this with a New York accent and a style most certainly copied from The Grandfather. For those 15 minutes, The Jungle Book switched from an adventure genre and started parodying a gangster movie. I’m not sure whether it was intentionally hilarious or not, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m very glad that I could live to see the day where Christopher Walken sings ‘I Wanna Be Like You.’
All in all, The Jungle Book is the kind of movie that has a created an amazing world that feels much bigger than what we see on screen, to the point where I don’t really mind that the plot isn’t so captivating. This remake could have gone very very badly, but I have to say it was much more fun, exciting, and memorable that I could ever hope it to be. Morevoer, I’m now sold on Disney’s idea to remake all their old classics. If they can make talking animals and dancing bears look good, then I don’t think they’ll have any problems.