“The Jungle Book” (2016) Review

The Red Flower

A Film Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

The animated Disney classics of old were deeply cherished by myself at a younger age. As I grew older, the classics became significantly more problematic. The casual (or not so casual) embraces of bigotry in general became more evident as the times grew along. Songs like Peter Pan’s “What Made the Red Man Red?”, the sexist message of The Little Mermaid, and the sheer shock of Song of the South were emblematic of Disney’s more problematic past. Rudyard Kipling, whose novel The Jungle Book gave birth to the animated feature of the same name, is no exception. Kipling was a British colonialist through and through, a man who believed that God had chosen white people to lead the human race forward unto glory. As inscribed in the poem “The White Man’s Burden”, Kipling believed wholeheartedly that as part of that work of God, white people had to drag and lift brown and black folks out of their muck and towards civilization.

The Jungle Book, while poorly written and ubiquitous with names that noted Kipling’s remarkable lack of creativity (“Baloo” is Hindi for “bear” and “Raksha” is Hindi for “protection”), is a novel that prescribes very much to that worldview. The animated film is less troubling, but the ending where Mowgli chooses to remain in the village strikes the same chord. No matter how much he tries to live in the jungle, it’s far too uncivilized for him. He’s simply better off with his own kind. It’s a fairly understandable note to strike within a general understanding of where the story should go, but it is understandable only within the lens of a false paradigm that teaches a fairly unfortunate lesson to children about the relationship between a human and the natural environment around them.

With the latest trend of live-action adaptations of their animated feature films, Disney is trying to find ways to make the original tales more palatable to a modern audience. With The Jungle Book, that narrative is most significantly structured towards refocusing Mowgli’s relationship with the jungle. Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book recognizes that Mowgli is home in the jungle and that in order for him to become a man, he doesn’t have to leave it all behind for the village of man. The jungle was where he learned to walk, to talk, to breathe. It’s where he learned to value relationships and foster them. It’s where he learned to dream and believe. It’s where, in short, he grew. Mowgli is a part of the jungle and it is that experience from where he learned to see the world from the perspective of being a part of nature and not being its adversary. The ending where he chooses to remain in the jungle and the animals in the jungle in turn accept him makes perfect sense from that perspective and it’s a perspective that needs to be explored further in an era dominated by efforts to mitigate environmental destruction.

Outside of that progressive thematic construct, The Jungle Book’s visual effects are astounding to behold. The digital rendering of a jungle environment feels in several frames to be tactile and palpable, as if the waterfall was mere inches away from being touched. The animals of the jungle are captured beautifully, with fantastic voice actors attached at the helm. After largely eschewing the original music in the renewed Cinderella, there is a slightly higher degree of fidelity towards the musical score of the animated The Jungle Book, with the main drawback being that the musical selection in that particular film was particularly poor. The song of King Louie in particular feels more grating than anything else, making the audience wish ardently that their ears had been transplanted somewhere else so they could avoid the misery altogether. Bill Murray and Neel Sethi’s rendition of “Bear Necessities” is thankfully much more pleasant. The film’s narrative structure lacks a consistent pacing that transitions smoothly from one scene to the next, resulting in a number of erratic moments throughout (one particularly jarring sequence is when Mowgli is taken captive by King Louie’s forces). The feeling of palpable tension, which should be considerable considering that Idris Elba is voicing the antagonist here, is lacking in significant measure. That’s in part because the demise of Shere Khan is such a notably foregone conclusion. But the film also rarely takes advantage of the thrill it could capture, opting instead for a safe and quiet adventure that has a great message but doesn’t entirely deliver it in a manner that is memorable, a manner that would stick the landing.

Good

7/10

Title: The Jungle Book

MPAA Rating: PG

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Produced by: Jon Favreau, Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by: Justin Marks

Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Neel Sethi

Narrated by: Ben Kingsley

Music by: John Debney

Cinematography by: Bill Pope

Edited by: Mark Livolsi

Production Company(s): Walt Disney Pictures, Fairview Entertainment

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Running Time: 105 minutes

Release Dates: April 15, 2016 (United States)

Image Courtesy: Trilby Reviews

Musings:

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