Review: The Jungle Book (2016)


Quite simply, I was captivated by Disney’s live action interpretation of The Jungle Book. In a year where films such as The Hateful Eight and 2001: A Space Odyssey have renewed my faith in the longevity of the cinematic medium, Jungle Book has fundamentally cemented my view that contemporary cinema can still excite and makes us wonder.

The film is an outstanding example of computer generated imagery being employed effectively. Part of this comes from the effects being used to create an environment that we are familiar with in nature, which is the jungle. However, like James Cameron’s Avatar, the magic of the effects manifests itself in the small little details. The one scene that is indicative of this is when Mowgli (Neel Sethi) meets Kaa (Scarlet Johanson)

Firstly, the build-up to the meeting is illustrated through a change in the colour scheme, which begins with idyllic and radiant uses of yellow and green. These then turn into harsh and desaturated uses of brown, black and green. Secondly, there are many lingering moments where the camera is focused on the ground that shows many of the previously victims of Kaa, which creates a great sense of dread and tension. Finally, there are a measured number of shots that represent the sheer size and majesty of Kaa, which is seen from Mowgli’s point of view as his eyes dart around his bleak surroundings. These moments also shows us another fascinating facet of the jungle, which is the main attraction of this live-action version of Rudyard Kipling’s much-beloved story.

Through his film-making, director Jon Favreau brings the titular jungle to vivid and enchanting life. Whether it is the kinetic and sweeping opening sequence that showcases Mowgli keeping up with his wolf pack via tree swooping. Or the stop motion sequence that depicts the changing seasons of the jungle in a strikingly painterly series of shots. Favreau’s conception of the Jungle stimulates the imagination as much as Cameron’s Pandora.

However, there is more to the picture then its effects and visual look. The film has a compelling primary theme that differentiates itself from the 1967 animated feature. The film is an exploration of man’s ingenuity. On the one hand, it can engender destruction, which is shown in the fear of fire that the animals in the picture dub as “Red Flower.” On the other hand, man’s ingenuity is illustrated as a beneficial thing which is shown in Mowgli’s acts through the course of the film. At first, the animals view the man cub’s inventiveness as mere tricks which fundamentally makes him an outcast.

However, this view is changed at the end of the film when the animals realise that Mowgli’s inventiveness is intrinsically good for their community. He uses self-built tools to free a baby elephant from a pit and devises a way for Baloo (Bill Murray) to have a constant supply of honey for his hibernation.

The theme has particular resonance in the final confrontation between Mowgli and Shere Khan, who is voiced with superb eloquence and savagery by Idris Elba. The man cub comes back to face the fearsome tiger with a burning branch. While running back to his home, Mowgli accidently causes half of the forest to burn. Khan uses this as a crutch to persuade the animals of man’s true nature.

The brave man cub decides to throw this piece of fire in a nearby lake and decides instead to face the tiger with his ingenuity. Crucially, this moment has the two conceptions of man’s ingenuity in conflict with one another and quite assuredly, Mowgli decides to use his wits as opposed to a destructive weapon to defeat Shere Khan.

In the original there was a fatalistically resigned fate for Mowgli, which was that eventually he would embrace his humanity and leave the jungle. Whereas in this live action version, Mowgli’s humanity and ingenuity proves that he can live in harmony with nature and the jungle that he calls home.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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