The Jungle Book
Having recently re-watched a portion of the original Disney classic and dwelling on the memory of one of those rare and important childhood film experiences, I was keen to see the new live-action version but also decided to quell my expectations.
The first thing that struck me was the intensity of the action sequences; this was a film with pace, tension and what seemed like real danger. It no longer looks like merely a fun, childhood romp in the jungle but a full-blown action film for adults and children alike. The jungle is real and, by extension, the action is palpable too.
Having the canvas of a real jungle to play with in an endless depth of field worked well for the film. As I mentioned before, it ramped up the excitement compared with the original 1967 Disney version. There was also a lot more focus on the wolf-pack that adopts Mogli. This was not a cursory glance, the laws of the wolf-pack and the individual characters therein were given depth and featured throughout.
Having said that, this new film does draw heavily upon the 1967 classic, with 2 of the most popular songs as well as the same basic plot. None of the comic effect is lost when converted to live action either, with Bill Murray doing an excellent job as Baloo the bear. In fact, most of the acting was superb especially Nell Sethi as Mogli. His performance was engaging and confident.
My only criticism is the ending. Part of the reason why the original Disney Jungle Book was so compelling for me was the overarching exploration of man’s relationship to nature which initially is covered with some realism. However, it seems to me that coexistence on this scale is impossible and the brutal reality is that man destroys nature as well as creating harsh conflict in a bid for control of resources and habitats. The meaningful friendship between Mogli and the jungle, including Bagheera or Baloo, has to end. Justin Marks (the writer) was unwilling to finish in the same way as the Disney original, perhaps to preserve the opportunity for a sequel. The tragic impact of these close friends parting forever (as they do in 1967) is therefore lost, along with the gravity of certain messages: 1) On a psychological level you should be comfortable with, and true to your identity and not seek to imitate someone or something you are not, and 2) Man should maintain a respectful distance from nature.