by Marissa Hock
John Favreau brings the well-known tale of The Jungle Book to life in its first live action ish… well, not completely animated version. I’m sure many of us are familiar with 1967 cartoon and have frequently watched it in our childhood. The Jungle Book is based on an 1894 book by Rudyard Kipling.
The Jungle Book evolves around a boy named Mowgli who is abandoned in the jungle as an infant. The animals take mercy on him and he is raised as part of a wolf pack. While he is content trying to live life as a wolf, Shere Kahn, a “less than friendly tiger” who hates humans, wants the boy dead. Rather than endanger his wolf family further, Mowgli decides that it’s time for him to rejoin his human village. His dear old panther friend, Bagheera, who found Mowgli as a baby, accompanies him on this journey.
The Jungle Book is a fun movie with some deep and hard-to-digest undertones like abandonment, violence, and death. Mowgli wants to be a wolf but he physically cannot be a wolf. He faces some discrimination but also experiences love from sources one would not expect. His mother wolf, Raksha, truly loves him as her own and it’s painful to see them part. As hard as he tries, Mowgli keeps resorting to his human tendencies which the animals refer to as “tricks.” This includes making tools and other objects and using his head instead of sheer strength to get out of tough situations. He is told to not use these tricks but in the end, uses these skills to (Spoiler) defeat and ultimately kill Shere Khan. The animals fear Mowgli in some sense because they know how powerful and sometimes evil man can become by use of these tricks. The object most feared by the animals is the red flower, also known as fire. Man’s ability, which includes Mowgli, to create things and control fire separates us from other animals. The Jungle Book shows us that with great power comes great responsibility. This tale keeps us humans in check and reminds us to use this power for good because in the end, man can easily destroy nature.
I enjoyed seeing this story in a more life-like fashion. I’m in awe of what modern cinema can do as far as make creatures and scenery as real as possible. The effect made me more sentimental and teary eyed at times. I was also happy to see that a few performances of the animated version’s songs were included but not overdone.
Note that this movie is not the animated film in any way, despite coming from the same studio. (Spoilers again) Mowgli does not return to the village but instead decides to stay in the jungle because this is where he is happy and feels he belongs. I don’t know if this symbolizes something deep or if the movie-powers-that-be are planning on producing a part two where he returns to the village and becomes accustomed to living with humans. The one scene the sticks out in my mind from the cartoon version is when Mowgli meets a little girl, falls in love or like with her, and wants to join her and in turn, the other humans. I prefer this ending because Mowgli is human and can only find ultimate fulfillment with other humans. His time trying to live life as a wolf is kind of like childhood but at some point reality hits and you have to be an adult and embrace who you are. This does not mean that he is not part of the jungle anymore or can no longer be friends with the animals. It just means he’s accepted who he is and can love all aspects of himself and his life. Even though Mowgli does not join the humans in this version, he does ultimately accept his humanity, as do the animals, and is encouraged to act like a human, tricks and all, after he proves himself worthy.
Overall, this was an enjoyable take on an old and popular tale.