Film Review: The Jungle Book

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Jon Favreau.

Continuing Disney’s run of animated classic remakes (Maleficent, Cinderella, and August’s Pete’s Dragon), The Jungle Book is the long-awaited live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1967 classic. Sure, the story finds its roots in Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories (it isn’t The Jungle Film, after all) – but this feature from director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man) is a beautifully-reimagined take on Disney’s animation – joyous songs and all.

Mowgli (Sethi) is a man-cub, or a boy raised by wolves, in the Indian jungle. He is protected by a black panther Bagheera (Kingsley), and is placed under threat from bengal tiger Shere Khan (Elba), because man doesn’t belong in the jungle. Mowgli leaves his home, journeying through a jungle filled with danger, and along the way befriends the delightful Baloo the bear (Murray).

If you grew up watching the animated Jungle Book, there’s no reason why you won’t fall in love with this adaptation. Sure, the story is the same, but visually this is spectacular. I found it astounding that the animals in this film are completely animated – and their movements designed from hours of real animal footage. The technology used here is so good that it blows CGI-heavy films such as Gods of Egypt and Batman v Superman right out of the water. Everything from the jungle landscapes to Baloo’s bristly hairs, Bagheera’s sleekness to Shere Khan’s mangled face – Favreau has taken care to make this visually appealing.

The script is tight, and the voice actors well-cast. Johansson is under-used as hypnotic snake Kaa – and no musical item either – but Bill Murray is perfect as Baloo. Murray’s comic timing translates to his haphazard but protective bear. Even Christopher Walken’s turn as King Louie is frightening. Speaking of which, I was surprised by the amount of scares in this film. Although at heart a kid’s film, there are plenty of frights that will scare young children (and, adults). You have been warned.

If there’s any star of this film (other than Favreau in his direction), it’s newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. He’s got great acting chops, good humour, and considering he doesn’t interact with any “humans” in the film, it’s an impressive first gig. I really loved jumping in on Mowgli’s adventure in The Jungle Book – and I reckon you will too.

‘All people, side by side.’

The jungle depicted in this film is a self-contained world with laws and expectations. It’s believed that the elephants are the creators, using their tusks to create landscapes and rivers. And while there’s the usual animal tensions and hierarchy, it’s the idyllic Peace Rock that we see peace at play. By law, all animals can come safely to drink of the water around the rock, no matter where on the food chain they sit. As Kipling wrote, in The Second Jungle Book:

‘By the Law of the Jungle it is death to kill at the drinking-places when once the Water Truce has been declared. The reason of this is that drinking comes before eating. Everyone in the Jungle can scramble along somehow when only game is scarce; but water is water, and when there is but one source of supply, all hunting stops while the Jungle People go there for their needs.’

The scene at the Rock is so stunning, remarkable, and safe – yet only as long as the law is upheld. I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 11:6-9:

‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’

These words of poetry illustrate a future for Israel where restoration will take place and peace – perfect peace – will reign forever. This is not due to some temporary law set around a brook, but instead by the kingship of Jesus on a new earth. We await that day when Jesus will return to end hostility for good. The Jungle Book gives a glimpse of how things should be, but the world and laws of the jungle are far from ideal.

The Verdict: The Jungle Book is a beautiful reimagining of a well-known tale, that will make you beam from beginning to end. It’s well worth swinging into the cinema to see it. 4/5

The Jungle Book releases in Australia this Thursday, 7th April, and in the USA on Friday, 15th April.

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