The Jungle Book has been an integral part of the 90s kid. Trust Disney to exploit our nostalgia and remake stories that have left an indelible mark on our souls! Written, re-written, adapted several times over the years and never losing it’s innocent charm- the man-cub is back in theatres. Every kid growing up in the 90s would remember sitting in front of the television and waiting anxiously for the Doordarshan animated adaptation which brought the jungle to life. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book by the same name, the plot is based on Kanha National Park and is full of creatures that thrive in the terrain. The tiger, snake, Nilgai, wolves- all are an intrinsic part of the Indian folklore and culture. No wonder Disney decided released the movie in India one week before the worldwide release! (That almost never happens!) But the most beautiful part is, The Jungle Book does not belong just to India. Written by a British, animated by the japanese and broadcast all over the world in multiple languages- the story is part of a majority of people across ages. So how did director Jon Favreau fare in his part to bring us closer to the Jungle? Let’s have a closer look.
Sitting in the house-full hall of screaming children, parents, teenagers, adults and yes, the elderly- this was a new feeling. There was so much excitement and buzz in the cinema, I sat rotating my head like an owl to survey the crowd. Most were reminiscing their breakfast days sitting in front of the TV at 9 am to catch the jungle action, some were explaining the plot to their children- it’s interesting because every one already knew the plot. There is no surprise element or spoilers to warn you of, yet everyone had turned up to relive memories or introduce young newbies to this cult phenomenon.
Having said that, there are several surprises to be wary of! The CGI effects in the movie are staggering! Although Neel Sethi’s Mowngli is the only real character in the movie, the special effects bring out the ferociousness of the Sher Khan, the grace of the Akela and the wolf pack, the power of Bagheera, the majestic grandeur of the elephants, the ease of Baloo, the mystic gaze of Kaa, the strength of the gigantopithecus King Louis and the various animals that populate the jungle. During moments of frenzied attacks, escape- the plot and technology combine to give an immersive effect humanises the animals and make them as real as ever. In fact, so scary were some scenes, the lady next to me screamed at one point when Sher Khan emerged from camouflage. That is not counting the other times kids were alarmed and crying at the fight sequences. That would probably explain the U/A certificate.
That is the other significant change that Favreau has brought to the plot. Apart from modern aesthetics and the visual treat, his story is darker and more sinister. The jungle here is no longer an innocent kid’s playground. It’s brimming with life and it is indeed wild. Every creature is fighting for survival and it is the question of survival that drives the plot forward. The jungle is treated not just as a beautiful paradise comparable to the fantasy in Avatar but at times, it is also sinister, scary and full of secrets.
But even in it’s darkest moments, it never ceases to be funny. The camaraderie between Baloo and Mowgli remains the highlight of the movie, saving some of the best dialogues for Baloo. We also get to hear our favourite song, The Bare Necessities in Bill Murray’s typical, lazy, chilled out manner. Wish Kaa had a longer role in the movie and funnily, there’s also a change in the character. The book and animated series depicts Kaa as a male and a sly mentor to Mowgli while the movie changes this and visualises Kaa as a female seducer. The narrative remains as enchanting and gripping as ever before and reminds us the endearing quality of Mowgli and his forest friends. Playing with Gray and the other wolf cubs, training with Bagheera and using his “man tricks” to emerge victorious, Mowgli the man cub reminds us of the most endearing bits of our childhood. For all who grew up on the iconic “chaddi pahen ke phool khila hai” theme song, despair not- Disney has got you covered.
It was a little disheartening to listen to the accent that anglicised Baloo and the Bandar log, but over all, the movie does great justice to it’s history and present context. A reminder of the need for unity and harmony, it foregrounds laws and justice as the rule of the Jungle- of course obliquely referring to man’s world. Referring to fire as the “Red Flower”, once again it is a stark pointer to the drawbacks of irresponsible wildlife interference. If the call of the wild excited you, maybe it’s time to dive into the world firsthand and experience it yourself. Volunteer at a National Park and be a part of an incredible journey that aims to transform the world and make it a better place.
Catch Jungle Book at your nearest theatre and let us know if it lived up to your expectations!
Lessons from The Jungle Book