I need to begin by confessing that, despite loving almost all things Disney when I was a boy, I was never a fan of the original Disney animated version of The Jungle Book, which I saw at the theatre in its initial release. So the remake, which is made in something approaching live action, didn’t attract my attention at all, even when it was critically-acclaimed. But Gareth loved it and encouraged me to watch it, so last night we went to see The Jungle Book.
I won’t bother describing much of the plot, which is well-known, other than to say that it involves a young boy (Mowgli, played wonderfully by Neel Sethi) who, as an infant, was found alone in the jungle by Bagheera (voice by Ben Kingsley), a kindhearted panther, and brought up in a family of wolves. Mowgli’s life as a man-cub is going well until he is smelled out by the tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who hates all humans and wants to kill Mowgli (as he had killed Mowgli’s father).
Running away from Shere Khan, Mowgli encounters Kaa (Scarlet Johansson), a snake with kind words who views Mowgli as a nice lunch, Baloo (Bill Murray), a lazy fun-loving bear who wants Mowgli to help him get his own lunch, and King Louie (Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan who wants Mowgli to give him the secret of the red flower so he can be as powerful as a human.
All of the voices are spot-on and Mowgli’s interactions with each of these characters are generally a lot of fun to watch. No longer remembering the original Jungle Book, I can only take Gareth’s word for it that some very inappropriate stereotypes have been corrected in Jon Favreau’s new version. This film is full of positive messages about diversity and community, which makes the ending all the more painful to watch.
Those who have read my reviews of Disney films over the years, or heard one of my talks on Disney films, will know that I have a particular disgust for the way Disney loves to create nasty evil villains and then kill them off at the end of the film, usually by having them fall to their deaths from a great height (this started with Disney’s first big animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937). Sometimes Disney will have the film’s hero try to prevent the villain’s fall, sometimes the fall is clearly the hand of God at work and sometimes the hero actually causes the villain’s fall. The latter is the worst and that is precisely what happens in The Jungle Book, where the young Mowgli deliberately lures Shere Khan to his death. For me, this is an unforgivable example of the myth of redemptive violence at its worst (though at least no one cheered when Shere Khan fell).
When combined with the dreadful washed-out cinematography, which was caused either by the fact that it was made for 3D or the fact that the theatre has inferior projection equipment, there is no way I can give The Jungle Book the ***+ most of it deserves. So *** it is. My mug is up.