Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson and Giancarlo Esposito
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: April 15th
When Disney announced its intentions to remake their 1967 classic adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it would be understandable for any potential writers, or directors to have said simply, “Leave me out of this”, for one of two reasons. Reason number one is that this is a sacred cow of cinema. The musical animation, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman is such a beloved milestone that to even contemplate revisiting it is to set oneself up for inevitable failure.
Second, given the consistent issue that Hollywood heaps upon itself, collectively in terms of white-washing non-American stories, a film such as The Jungle Book is certainly going be risky ground to navigate. That is of course, unless the filmmakers are comfortable with potentially being dubbed modern day Orientalists. Either you are brazen, audacious, or immensely stupid in taking on this project, yet at the same time, the path to redeeming Hollywood needs to start somewhere. What is more, it needs to start as soon as damn possible, after #OscarsSoWhite, and fortunately enough, director Jon Favreau did just that, getting the ball rolling with wonderful piece of live action children’s cinema.
An intensely stylized version of the cherished tale, aware of the legacies of both Kipling and the animated adaptation, this 3D remake strikes a balance between “playing the hits” and going back to the source material afresh, delivering a vision that up to date on matters of intolerance. More inclined to forward the message of peace in a multicultural society, as opposed Reitherman’s idea of safety only amongst one’s own kind, Favreau follows loosely the same plot structure, deviating primarily to explore in greater detail the key theme of racial prejudice.
The premise, by in large remains the same, though it cuts straight to the action, leaving the backstory of Mowgli to be drip fed into the script as events unfold. When we meet the iconic man-cub, immediately we are informed that he is struggling to conform to the wolf-pack standards. He has his own abilities, which make him their equal, but they want him to go by the book. Though inventive in dealing with hunting, and survival situations, since these are indicative of his being human, they are constantly dismissed by the alpha wolf, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) as mere “tricks”.
Encouraged to compromise by both the wolf-pack and his mentor, a black panther called Baaghera (Ben Kingsley), his noble efforts to conform still seem futile, since by simply being human, he is attracting undesirable attention, notably that of Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), a physically and emotionally scarred Bengal Tiger. Both a victim and enemy of humankind, Kahn is galled by the existence of this man-cub and so he hands the wolves an ultimatum; either they allow him to kill Mowgli or everybody suffers.
Fearful of Kahn, the wolves decided to exile Mowgli, with Baaghera agreeing to escort him back to the man village. Encountering on their journey all of those characters, for which the film is best remembered, the loveable and lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray), the seductive boa constrictor Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and “Jungle VIP” monkey mob boss Louie (Christopher Walken), they lose none of their original gravitas, and do real justice to the music of Terry Gilkyson and the Sherman Brothers. However, while all of the jovial antics of the second act keep moods elevated, a threat lurks around the corner as Kahn, wishing to punish humanity by killing Mowgli, in pure Orwellian fashion, begins to mirror the destructive nature of man as his longing for justice might result in the destruction of the whole jungle.
Written as an allegory, which argues that humanity’s drive to create and evolve rapidly can create grave chaos, while also, making a case for diversity, and multiculturalism as being the foundations for a rich society, Favreau’s Jungle Book takes on new relevance for a new generation. Intelligent, and heart-warming, it does not strive to imitate the old version; rather it finds ways to fit iconic tropes into the story on its own terms. Not unlike Steve Martino’s The Peanuts Movie, Favreau is revisiting a cultural treasure, which he clearly reveres enough to find within it a newfound significance, and because of this, he has managed to give the words ‘Major Motion Picture Remake’ at least some credibility.