The Jungle Book: A New Take on an Old Tale

jungle_book_ver6_xlgYou know those moments? The ones where you see something, not necessarily vital or anything like that, but which you really, really, really want, moving slowly but inexorably past you? And it gets sooooo close, and yet stays so far away? That was basically me last summer, watching this remake’s run in theaters saunter past me, and me unable to go see it. Every time I was thinking to go see it, something always came up! It was maddening!

But, now that I got it on DVD for Christmas, I was, at long last, able to watch The Jungle Book. πŸ˜€

I will say this: I imagine it would have been glorious to watch this in theaters, but it was also worth waiting for. πŸ™‚

Remaking and adapting a classic like Jungle Book for a modern audience is no small task. Not only do you have the animated classic to live up to, but also the literature the original was based on, which was much darker and bloodier than Disney’s version (surprise, surprise). This version of the story managed to do justice to both sources of material, I think, while duplicating neither.

The story….

…wait, first, forgive me for not treading around any spoilers, but as it is available for home viewing now, I don’t feel too bad about it. πŸ˜‰

Now, the story follows the man-cub, Mowgli, who was taken in as a baby and raised by a wolf pack in the jungle. That is, until fate brings the attention of Shere Khan, the mighty, ruthless tiger with a reputation for killing for pleasure, towards Mowgli and the pack. The tiger hates Mowgli, and is willing to do anything to ensure he get the man-cub’s neck between his large, sharp teeth. Mowgli, wanting to protect his pack, agrees to go away somewhere else, though he resists Bagheera’s idea of going to the man-village, but the tiger’s anger pursues him, trying to draw him back.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

“Shere Khan makes me look positively nice. Tigers do not offer a chance to join the dark side.”

As Mowgli is trying to find a safe place to stay, he keeps meeting characters who offer him what he wants, but selfishly. King Louie wants to use Mowgli to gain power over fire, what the animals call man’s β€œred flower,” giving him the power to conquer the jungle, and he nearly kills the boy for refusing. Kaa the snake, of course, is straight up lying, just using the words to draw Mowgli in for supper. Even Baloo the bear, who enables Mowgli to live happily, unleashing the potential of his clever, tool-using ideas, initially uses Mowgli as a means to get a large supply of honey. That last turns into a more symbiotic relationship, which becomes friendship, as Baloo gives up on the honey and puts himself between Mowgli and danger. Heck, even Bagheera and the wolf pack were trying to stifle Mowgli’s innovation, to make him do things as they do them, rather than letting him be himself.

I find it interesting how the animals all think of fire as something of man. True, man uses it, man has harnessed it, and man has largely mastered it, but it is a natural phenomenon, and one that sweeps through nature with a certain amount of regularity. Still, overlooking that detail, it is clear that fire is something they fear and which, to them, represents all the worst dangers humans bring to the jungle. A man wielding fire is their version of the devil, such that they will even tolerate the menacing regime of Shere Khan.

On the other side, the animals seem to worship the elephants much like some divine creature. A fine touch, considering the setting somewhere in India, though it does beg the question of why these divinities never speak, and why some creatures seem unable to speak at all. Small plot hole, there, but I digress. The point is, where man wields fire to the jungle’s destruction, the elephants can direct the flow of water, to give life and, especially, to douse flames, making them the jungle’s great benefactors. Which begs the question of how the animals view monsoon season, but, again, digression.

"Whoa..." Oh shut it!

“Whoa… the animals have a religion…”

When Shere Khan, in his seething, unquenchable anger, commits murder to draw Mowgli back, he succeeds. He ignites hatred within Mowgli, and Mowgli’s wrath is such that he steals away to the man village… to steal fire. And, clumsy, ignorant, wild boy that he is, his fire quickly threatens the whole jungle, including his pack, terrifying everyone. He has become what Shere Khan wants him to be: the jungle’s version of the devil. But then Mowgli, who has seen plenty of the brutal struggle for survival and dominance in the jungle, chooses to throw the fire away. He throws away his most dangerous weapon… and in return, he gains an even greater power: the pack.

The villains in this story, tiger, snake, and huuuuge monkey, have all tried to stand atop the jungle alone. But the way of the wolf, with a panther, a bear, and a man-cub joining in, is to stand together. That is how one survives the wilds of the world. Not by beating others down in cutthroat competition to be on top, but by joining together, each one doing their best, in their own way, to overcome whatever adversities, and adversaries, come their way. So when Shere Khan, hateful, murderous hypocrite that he is, gloats in his imminent victory over Mowgli, he finds himself standing along against the combined might of the other jungle lords, Mowgli among them.

The man-cub has gone from sheltered outcast to the equal of his peers, neither above nor below.

Which brings us to the ending of the film. I believe this is the first telling of the tale where Mowgli stays with the animals in the jungle. I wasn’t sure about that at first. Most such stories involve the protagonist leaving the magical place of his or her naΓ―ve youth, or having the magic leave the world. It represents growing up, I believe, letting go of the things we thought we knew, so when Mowgli got to stay, it was almost like saying you can be a kid forever, never growing up. But that didn’t quite fit with the rest of the movie, and then it hit me. Mowgli grows up where he is. He doesn’t have to leave or get pushed out or abandoned by his loved ones. They all find a way to live… together.

Not a bad message, that.

And super-kudos go to everyone involved in making this film. The scenery, the computer animation, everything was fantastically crafted. The acting was great, with young Neel Sethi keeping up admirably with the all-star vocal cast, each one of who portrays their character brilliantly. I was a touch disappointed that Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Kaa arose only once during the entire movie, but the ending credits did feature her rendition of β€œTrust in Me.” Which, another note, it was impressive how they brought in the classic songs of Disney’s animated feature, and tweaked them for their role in this live-action feature. An excellent touch, that! πŸ™‚

So, to sum-up, I really enjoyed this movie! Or could you tell that already? πŸ˜‰

The Jungle Book tells a thrilling story, with strong themes and a good message, and tells it very well.

Here it comes!

“HIDE YOUR LITTLE ONES!”
…that is not what I said.

However, it does bear mentioning, this is not the child-friendly story we grew up with. As in nature, the violence is brutal, and as with man, the villain is cruel, and the movie does not treat this lightly. So, I’m not quite sure exactly when it would be appropriate to share this with the kiddies, but parental guidance is strongly advised.

That said, for my personal experience…

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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One Response to The Jungle Book: A New Take on an Old Tale

  1. Pingback: The Good and Bad of Beauty and the Beast | Merlin's Musings

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