Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, / And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die. / As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; / For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
—Rudyard Kipling, The Law for the Wolves
I have a special bond with the stories Rudyard Kipling penned about a boy in the jungle. The 1967 animated film The Jungle Book was the first movie my parents ever showed me when I was a toddler, and Mowgli was subsequently my first cosplay. Yes, I ran around in my panties and climbed the back of the sofa like it was a tree branch. Since those early days, I’ve seen every film adaptation of The Jungle Book, and even studied the original text in a Children’s Literature class. (I have a weakness for the live action 1994 film starring Jason Scott Lee, Lena Headey, and Cary Elwes…never mind that Mowgli is played by a man who is Chinese and Hawaiian, not Indian…) I even have a black cat named Bagheera.
This being said, I was both ecstatic and hesitant when I heard they were remaking the film. I was excited to see what they would do with the story, but worried that my expectations would be too high. I did not want to be disappointed. Luckily, I wasn’t. The Jungle Book (2016) is a faithful adaptation in many ways; it honored the lovable nature of the animated movie, even incorporating much of the same dialogue and the original score. But it also brought in aspects from Kipling’s original texts that are largely absent from the 1967 version. And as is to be expected from most of Disney’s remakes, it managed to revamp and brighten the story with beautiful special effects and patched plot holes. This version is more realistic (as realistic as one can get with a story like this, anyway), but remains uplifted by the lighthearted comedy and memorable music of the original.
The voice performances were a large reason why this adaptation was successful; the actors chosen have similarities to their 1967 counterparts but are recognizable in their own right. We know who they are simply by hearing them speak, and yet, they remind us of the original Disney film. Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), and Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha) were able to imbue such feeling and depth in their voices that I simply forgot they weren’t on screen themselves. That being said, the one live performance was as fantastic as those of the voice actors. Twelve year old Neel Sethi played the man-cub Mowgli so well that you’d never know the animals surrounding him weren’t real. I was impressed by his work, and am curious to know what will come next for him.
In short, if you are a fan of any of the previous film adaptations, give this one a go, too. It is reminiscent of childhood, with a depth of emotion and social commentary that can appeal to any adult viewer. And for those Disney afficionados…keep an eye on the end credits. You’ll see the same physical book that opened the 1967 movie.
Look for the bare necessities!
Until next time,
The Collected Mutineer