Version: 2016; starring Ben Kingsley; Bill Murray; Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Genre: adventure; children’s classic
Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free spirited bear, Baloo.”
My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel. Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.
Alright, an amendment: as a teenager I did try to read the Jungle Books, but did not get very far because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I remember watching the Disney animation a few times as a child though, and I would also recommend the Masterpiece classic “My Boy Jack” based on the true story of author Rudyard Kipling and his son during the Great War (starring Daniel Radcliffe).
Even though reading the book escaped me, I was excited to see the live action version. I think the most fun for me was listening to all the great voice actors (obviously, we see only one human throughout the whole film, except in distant portrayals of the villagers). I did not know beforehand who was playing most of the characters, so it was fun guessing. I absolutely loved Ben Kingsley’s noble sounding voice as Bagheera. What a perfect match for one of my favorite actors! Another favorite was Christopher Walken as King Louie. Although it took me a little bit, I soon recognized his famous voice and I thought it was hysterical!
It was genius to change the voice of Kaa the Python to a woman’s. For one, it provides more female roles to the story, and also the thought of an alto voice can be very hypnotizing. However, Scarlett Johansson just didn’t do it for me (I don’t know why this is). It also did not seem to make sense why this villain was in the story in the first place. It didn’t flow connectively to other parts.
Is this live action a musical? Not really, though it does include some snippets of songs from the cartoon, but this primarily weighs in favor of the drama. The characters who do sing are not exactly noted for their musical capabilities.
The special effects were great and there was an appropriate atmosphere of fear throughout, balanced by Mowgli’s faithful and loving friends. Raksha, Mowgli’s mother-wolf, is nurturing and Baloo the bear provides cute, comic relief. My personal favorites were the little wolf cubs. 🙂
Despite all of this, I disliked how this movie ended. In both the book and 1967 version, Mowgli the boy goes to live in a human village where he is adopted by parents. Baloo and Bagheera sacrifice and do what is best in their friend’s interest, making for a bittersweet but satisfying ending. In this newest adaptation, after all of the struggle for keeping Mowgli safe, the boy stays with his animal friends. Perhaps this is a bridge to a Jungle Book II? Who knows. But one has to wonder what the purpose was in Mowgli living isolated from his own kind. In the earlier version Bagheera shows wisdom (and joy) in seeing Mowgli off to a home among people who can nurture him better than the animals can. In version 2016, nature seems elevated above the benefit of human love and relationships. Man is evil, and Shere Khan cannot really be held responsible for his actions because man *made* him what he is. It all boils down to your world view.
Most will probably find this movie family friendly, though it is sad to see a tiger kill a wolf (not graphically), and there are some scary parts (snakes, teeth, etc.) that may bother little children.
*Of interest, I find that another live-action version of The Jungle Book, directed by Andy Serkis is due in the near future.