The 2016 production of Jungle Book (produced by John Favro) is not a movie you watch. It’s a movie you live. When I first saw the trailer late in 2015 I was enthralled, it looked incredible. All the disney movies and fairytales are being revamped now for the current audience of the 21st Century, Snow White has become the violent, Snow White and the Huntsmen, Alice and Wonderland has been brought to life in gruesome technicolour. They feel for an older audience, those who feel too old for the disney fairytales but still haven’t let go of their childhood. There is a danger of revamping the most loved films of all time, personally I don’t enjoy the revamps of those movies aforementioned but there was something about the Jungle Book trailer that had me enraptured. The tribal beat of the music, the heart stopping live action, and the stunning CGI recreations of the animals. With favourite characters revamped it made me relive my childhood in a magical and explosive way.
From the moment the titles roll up you are catapulted into an action scene of Mowgli tearing through the jungle hunted by the black shadow of Bagheera the black panther. Wolves race alongside him and the action is amped up even more as the tree branch Mowgli channels his escape on splinters sending him crashing to the ground. Your heart is in your mouth as Bagheera knocks him flying with a fearsome roar then all is resolved as they stand up calmly and start walking along, “If you can’t learn to run with the pack then you’re going to end up as someone’s lunch’ This, it turns out it was just practise. Bagheera scolds the young Mowgli, telling him never to escape using a dead tree. He teaches Mowgli how to tell the difference, something which comes full circle in the finale when this advice determines the outcome of the movie. The movie is star studded with names such as Ben Kingsley (Bagheera) Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba and each bring their character to live in the most vivid and magical of ways.
Mowgli was rescued by Baheera as a toddler (though this it not fully known until later on unlike the original) and welcomed into the wolf clan but it’s clear that he is not completely wolf. He invents tools to help him achieve things, such as using the shell of a fruit as a water bowl and climbs trees. This is looked down on in the wolf clan. Mowgli is portrayed brilliantly by Neel Sethi, especially seeing as this is his first movie debut. He is the only human to actually feature in the movie, everything else is CGI and character voices. In an interview he said how he related to Mowgli “We are both stubborn, adventurous and like to show our energy a lot,”
The movie is a mix of the original book by Rudyard Kipling, the original disney and a fresh new imagining. The music is stunning, it is no longer a happy musical, the music has been taken, revamped, darkened, packed full of symbolic meaning and the rhythm of the jungle. The Bare Necessities is fun and almost carribean with the whistled tune but there is a darker version with drum beats, clashing of rhythm and such energy.
The story plot begins at the waterhole, when the Peace rock is uncovered by the dry season; it is a time of peace where both predator and prey drink at the waterhole alongside each other. As Mowgli and the wolf clan arrive it’s clear he is different, animal species all question what he is especially when he uses his tools to drink the water. Suddenly the mood is tense as the unmistakable hulking frame of the fearsome Shere Khan circles the watering hole. Even for those viewers who aren’t familiar with the original can’t fail to notice his power as all the animals cower away frozen watching and the crows cawing (a very symbolic sound of danger, fear and signalling something unpleasant to come. The wolves motion Mowgli to get down behind them and he hides watching the fearsome tiger, “There’s an strange odour today.” Shere Khan growls, his voice is dark and powerful, portrayed by Idris Elba who brings the character to life. Shere Khan has felt the rage of man and bears the marks to prove it. Man is portrayed as a horrific monster and as a viewer I felt the same towards my own race at how some destroy forests, murder animals without any disregard. I doubt anyone sided with the human race in this movie (apart from Mowgli of course)
Shere khan demands that the wolf pack gives up Mowgli as man is forbidden. But when the wolf pack refuses Shere Khan growls, he will come and kill Mowgli when the river runs again.
Aside from the fact that Shere Khan never appeared in the beginning in the original, everything had followed the original story and sure enough the wolf pack discuss and decide that Mowgli must be returned to the man village as he is in terrible danger. However unlike the original Mowgli is full aware of this and when the wolf pack, his family who he loves comes under danger he takes it upon himself to leave the pack. There is an emotional moment where Mowgli says goodbye to his mother Raksha, they press their foreheads against each other crying as the rain sleets down, “You will always be my son,” Raksha promises.
Baghera guides Mowgli to the man village and the original continues to be gently but surely changed. Mowgli is not whining and complaining about leaving the jungle, he doesn’t want to but he understands it and values his family protection more. This causes him to be more relatable and likeable. Suddenly the atmosphere changes. Shere Khan ambushes them injuring Bagherea and Mowgli flees. The actions scene is powerful and thrilling, lunging through the reeds, unsure of where the tiger is, Mowgli leaps off the cliff and down into the mud ridden ravine. This is symbolic of the scene in Lion King especially as the herd of buffalo stampede past. Mowgli leaps onto one of the mud splattered beasts and escapes from Shere Khan.
This is when the movie really steps into its own and becomes darker and grittier. Shere Khan murders Akira, the head of the wolf clan and Mowgli’s adopted father. He then takes over the other animals and wrenches the mothers heart as he toys with her children, pretending to be Uncle Shere Khan. The viewers heart is in their mouth as they watch the wolf cubs innocently playing in his giant paws. Raksha calls for them to come over and Shere Khan lets them go. Except one. He places a paw over it and the scene is painful it’s so tense. But he releases the wolf cub.
It’s clear that this is not targeted at the audience of the original, the footage is darker, more dangerous. Mowgli is lost in the jungle and to enhance the fear and uncertainty mist closes in. Everything is silent as Mowgli drifts through this mysterious landscape. This scene here is especially powerful. The light is minimal, a huge contrast of dark and light, wide angle shots make Mowgli appear small and defenceless. In a scene reflective of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Mowgli discovers a giant snake skin. He is alarmed but the viewer knows exactly what this heralds and the intensity of the scene is pumped up a few more decibels. Here the director has let the audience know something the character doesn’t and we are unable to do anything as Mowgli wanders further to his fate. His face is hidden in shadows as he calls out, “Hello?” There’s a high pitched wail of insects and then a breathy synth. Kaa’s voice comes from the misty darkness, “Hello, little cub,” beautifully voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Some might think it’s strange replacing the sinister but humorous male Kaa with a woman, but it works perfectly. It adds such a level, she feels motherly, kind and caring though the audience know she is not which makes it even more sinister. Mowgli glances around to see who’s called. A wide angle shot offers us a view of the tangled mist strewn trees…and a single loop of Kaa’s coils slung over a twisted branch. She appears her eyes glowing in the darkness, in slow motion, her voice hypnotising as she nears the camera. In the original Kaa served as both a humorous aspect but also showing the danger of the jungle. Here though she is deadly but offers information, revealing to Mowgli the reason he is out here in the jungle. “I know why you’re here, would you like to see?” A hypnotised Mowgli breathes, “Yeeeahh.”
The viewer is introduced to an important element of the story, something that will return later and dictate the end, fire, or as the animals of the jungle call it, ‘the red flower.’ “Their caves breathe in the dark, they call it the red flower…it brings warmth and light and destruction to all that it touches.” Mowgli is shown his father in the vision and himself as a grinning toddler. Then Shere Khan’s golden eyes appear in the darkness. A shadow on the wall shows Shere Khan killing the man as they fall in slow motion but not before Shere Khan’s face is mutilated by the red flower. “The panther found the cub,” Kaa breathes, “And that cub was you Mowgli.” We are brought back to Kaa and Mowgli and there’s no prizes for what happens next. Kaa tries to eat Mowgli but they are rescued by the arrival of the adorable and cuddly Baloo. Here is legendary character loved by the masses, for his care free and humorous approach of life. And the character certainly hasn’t changed in the revamp. What has changed though is the density of his fur, it took CGI artists five hours for every rendering of his fur. It gives him such a cute and appealing character that the viewers love him. In a film that is as dark as the jungle book the importance of a character like this is essential, breaking up the fear and danger with light hearted moments of fun, humour. Even in horror movies comedy is essential, there’s also dark and light and the same is true of film making to get a steady balance.
Earlier in the movie Bagheera and Mowgli were walking through the jungle when the elephants arrived. In the original disney movie they were again humorous characters with fun one liners and a great wit and amusement. However they have been transformed completely. The elephants are like God’s, revered and worshipped. Instead of the vibrant, shouting and energetic song they are silent. This is such a contrast but it works so perfectly, they are a symbol of respect and power, majestic in their silence. The animals of the jungle must bow down whenever they pass, “The elephants created this jungle, where they made furrows with their tusks, the rivers ran. Where they blew with their trunks the leaves fell. They made all that belong, the mountains, the trees, the birds in the trees. But they did not make you, that is why you must go.” The young elephant wanders past the bowed Mowgli and Bagheera smiling down at them with curiosity. When you research the India you see how this movie has deep roots in the culture. In India, elephants are also revered and respected
Now as Bagheera relocated Mowgli and struggles to make him return to the man village the elephants feature once more. This time Mowgli is woken to the sound of pain, the young elephant has fallen into the ravine and they are unable to pull him out. Mowgli races back and uses his ingenuity and tool making to create a pulley system, using the other elephants to help pull him out. Bagheera and Baloo watch from a distance. Bagheera explains why Mowgli must return to the man village or else Shere Khan will kill him. Baloo realises what must be done and tells Mowgli he will never be his friend and wants him to leave. This is such a painful scene and Mowgli is heartbroken, escaping up a tree but not for long as he is captured by the monkeys as in the original. As all the animals in the remake, they are larger than life and King Louis the hip, swinging, dancing orangutan of the original is no more (interesting he never featured in Rudyard Kipling’s original tales) Instead a dark sinister creature lurks in the darkness of the temple at the top of the mountain. Voiced by Christopher Walken he has aspects of a mafia boss as he talks from the shadows. And he is big, in fact he’s no longer an orang-utan but a Giantophitchecus, an extinct, giant ape, twice as big as a gorilla. It makes the movie even more ‘awesome’ He even has his own jazz moment, with new lyrics and a much darker vibe. As in the original, he wants Mowgli to teach him how to control and make the red fire.
The escape scene is incredible, so tense as Mowgli escapes through the crumbling ruins. I will add more of this part when the movie comes out but am limited on what I remember of the scene. What I do know though is that when King Louis appears suddenly in the frame I screamed in the cinema. A ten year old girl was laughing about me but anyway, moving on. Mowgli escapes as King Louis meets a ruinous end under the crushed temple. Not before however he tells Mowgli that Shere Khan has killed Akira. Heartbroken that Baghera never told him Mowgli escapes to the man village but instead of returning like the original he steals the red flower, the fire and tears through the jungle to face Shere Khan. However a cruel twist of fate show the animals how Mowgli has become what they all feared, man. As Mowgli looks back he sees how the fire he was carrying has caught alight on some dry tinder and the entire jungle is ablaze. Man has brought fire into the jungle.
However Mowgli hurls the fire into the water saying he is not man! All the animals group together against Shere Khan as Mowgli flees into the burning jungle. Faced with the teeth of Shere Khan or a death in the inferno Mowgli resorts to his tools, creating a trap for Shere Khan and bringing the movie full circle and using the advice given in the beginning from Baghera never to use a dead tree to escape. As Shere Khan meets a fiery death Mowgli leaps for the swing he constructed and hangs swinging across the blazing jungle. In a beautiful ending the elephants appear as in the legend, pushing trees to change the course of the river and extinguishing the fire.
This is where the movie completely changes everything. Mowgli does not return to the man village. When he did in the original, it went against everything the story was telling you, you can be different and accepted, you don’t have to become what you don’t want and you do not have to do things others want you to do to be accepted. Here he stays with his true family and runs with his wolf kin.
I’ll wrap this critique up with the most beautiful quote throughout, the mantra of the wolves and written by Rudyard Kipling.
“Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, by the Wolf that shall break it must die
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the Law runneth forward and back,
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. “