Two of our reviewers, September and Rachael, got together earlier this week to see Disney’s new, live action The Jungle Book together. Therefore, this is dual review from two perspectives! —Cat
Rachael: Having been raised on Disney movies, I had a wave of excitement—and a little bit of doubt—when I saw another Jungle Book movie adaptation was coming to the screen. After the original 1967 cartoon, there haven’t been any worthwhile adaptations that have made it to screen.
September: Yeah, I agree. The Jungle Book has never been one of my favorite movies, and I thought that the live action adaptations were pretty awful. (I’m looking at you 1994 version…instigator of childhood trauma).
Rachael: But this movie was a beautiful dose of nostalgia.
September: Also agreeing. The movie was breath-takingly beautiful, not to mention very respectful to the classic cartoon.
Rachael: The Jungle Book is rated PG for sequences of scary action and peril, and the rating is merited. There is very real danger, and Shere Khan is painted in a light that matches his reputation and proclamations of “bending the rules” in his favor. The jungle is dangerous, and more creatures than just Shere Khan himself are mostly to blame.
September: I found it very interesting how deeply the constant peril permeated the story. While in the 1967 version you had some pretty steady comic relief, there are some things that you can soften in a cartoon, whereas a straight translation to live action makes those same scenes and themes quite a bit harsher. Given that The Jungle Book is such a close translation, a lot of those dark themes from the cartoon were just made to feel heavier and much, much scarier in this version.
Rachael: Coming at this new version of The Jungle Book as an adult, I wish they didn’t go full Hollywood and pull in the backstory about Mowgli’s father and Mowgli’s personal connection to Shere Khan. But if they had to do it, I guess they did it well. Instead of the entire film hinging on the worn-out cliché of revenge, Mowgli’s personal connection to Shere Khan wasn’t the focal point for his decisions or his actions. He couldn’t have cared less about his real father, a man he never met, but he does care deeply about Akela, the Wolf Alpha who raised him in the pack.
September: Yeah, I was afraid the film was going to break the good thing it had going with the random backstory info-dump. But instead of it shattering the film’s magic into a generic template, Mowgli’s response highlighted what was important to Mowgli instead of what “should have been” important to Mowgli according to contemporary American culture.
Rachael: It also implied that Shere Khan had something out for Mowgli on a more personal level, instead of just having an utter hatred for mankind. I would have much preferred to see his anger for all humans emphasized instead of making it seem like it was a vendetta against Mowgli in particular.
September: I stand by my thoughts that it could’ve gone really sour really fast, but it could’ve been executed so much more poorly.
Rachael: On the nostalgia note, a few of the original Disney songs did find their way into the film, which made me smile. There were a bunch of small, witty conversations and Mowgli’s constant “why” questions gave the movie a very natural and realistic feel. You could tell this was a child living with these animals.
September: Oh my word, the boy who played Mowgli, Neel Sethi, was amazing. The entire film felt very much like it was told through the eyes of child. They included an insane amount of little details throughout the background that—added with the perfection that was Neel Sethi’s performance—amplified the visual beauty of the movie with an aura of magical wonder.
Rachael: One point I didn’t care for, and it’s probably just me, is Bagheera’s remark that the elephants are what made the jungle (which does play a part at the end). This placed the elephants on a much higher pedestal than was necessary to the story. Giving them respect is one thing, but treating them like unapproachable deities is another. I’m able to roll it off my shoulders as a script-writing-means-to-an-end thing, but giving the credit of creating the jungle to a single part of that very creation is a large mark against The Jungle Book to me. Elephants are not gods. But! As long as you don’t go about worshiping elephants, you should be golden.
September: Hehehe. The elephants. Hehehe. Rachael was not happy.
Rachael: All the animals are put together with stunning CGI. The way each animal slinks, jumps, fights; you can see a real animal in its place. The voice acting, along with Neel Sethi’s performance was spot on and really made the cartoon characters I remembered come to life in new ways.
September: I hadn’t even planned to see this film because of my dislike of the story when I was little. However, now I am very, very glad I went with you to see it. The Jungle Book is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve seen in quite a while—and I purposefully seek out beautiful movies. Like you said, the animation of the animals is very, very natural, from the way Bagheera stalks through the woods to the way Shere Khan’s claws contract around the rock when he’s reclining. The amazing Neel Sethi responded to all the invisible creatures around him with such perfect belief that, well, I had a really hard time remembering this magical place was created in a computer.
Rachael: I’m definitely a child who hasn’t grown up yet. I love Disney films and the little things I take away from them. The Jungle Book was beautiful to watch, and it was wonderful to experience the story in a new light that didn’t shy away too much from the original. If you grew up with the older Disney movie, you will not be disappointed in this new version. If anything, you will smile and grin at all the little things that make you remember your childhood. If this is the first Jungle Book movie you’ll see, I’m sure you’ll enjoy all the beautiful animals and witty dialogue, not to mention a good story about being who you are, and not trying to fit into someone else’s cookie cutter.
Rachael is an artist who is trying to adult at the same time. Her goal is to help others see and enjoy things they might never get to experience, to let their minds travel to unique worlds and revel in the beauty of everything. Life is an adventure!
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector, and movie watcher. When not obsessively organizing her book shelves, she can be found in a coffee shop writing, editing, or webmastering; assisting in taxidermy; or at home annoying her cat, Jpeg. That, or staring blankly into space, contemplating some deep question she'll forget shortly.