For many potential viewers, the thought of a repackaging of a childhood favourite in a sleek and near seamless reproduction may have been enough to write off The Jungle Book as another Disney cheap trick, a get-rich-quick sucker punch at nostalgia. It wouldn’t be completely unfair to scoff at the movie industry’s brazen disregard for originality, even if you enjoyed the film. But the thing about this creation of The Jungle Book is that it doesn’t carry the typical notes of a rip-off. In fact, for a remake it actually feels rather respectable.
Is it a Marxist reinterpretation of the overtly imperialist structuring in the famous Rudyard Kipling novel, a new film in which the lower caste animals must deatomize and force out the oppressive claws of the wandering Bengal tiger? No, not at all. This is a modernization of a children’s story already rewritten out of the original text — a proxy of a proxy if you will. The politics in the film don’t stand out any more than the implausibility of African elephants wandering through the jungles of India.
The story itself isn’t much of anything new — even after almost 50 years between the two Disney versions, it follows a similar diegesis with the addition of a few more Kiplingisms. You remember the story: the “man-cub” raised by wolves eventually must leave the jungle for fear that the terrifying tiger Shere Khan will kill him. His adventure out of the jungle and towards the man-village brings him into the company of a few familiar animals: one who wants to caress him, another who enjoys the simple life, and yet another with an existential dilemma, a certain fascination with being human. There are absolutely a few notable plot points that don’t make it into the new film from the old, but they don’t really change the direction of the story.
Although practically the entire film is virtual and all the characters — save Mowgli — are non-human, the story itself is very human. The CGI wizardry of cinematographer Bill Pope is a stunning example of the computer’s role in modern filmmaking. The whole movie is computer generated (a nod to 11-year-old Sethi for acting out the whole film with almost no set) but the thing about that is it’s still full of humanity. It’s the young child finding his place within a society that doesn’t quite accept him. It’s the banding together to combat a common threat to the home.
Another detail worth talking about is the choice of actors for the main characters. An all-star cast invites us to place what we know of the actors onto the characters they play. The devious King Louis, a “Gigantopithecus,” is voiced by none other than Christopher Walken, and satisfyingly so. Ben Kingsley plays the motherly, worrying Bageera, which makes perfect sense once the uptight panther starts speaking, if it didn’t so before the film started. Scarlett Johansson’s, delicate yet seductive voice almost lures Mowgli into the mouth of Kaa, the python. Bill Murray on the other hand, took a bit more time to convince me of being the carefree bear Baloo.
Reflecting on the movie as a whole, it didn’t impress me the way I was expecting it to. It was a pleasant story, visually stimulating and entertaining — but nothing fantastic. There is plenty to laugh at and a story to invest in but The Jungle Book was really made 50 years ago, and it shows. Hopefully the Warner Bros. interpretation, due to be released in 2018 (yes, another one) will excite in more ways than this rather tame Disney story.