The Jungle Book

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

(PG) Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba

When the original animated Jungle Book was being considered by Disney studios, the fear was that the story was too dark for children. Walt Disney decided to go with a lighter version of author Rudyard Kipling’s tale, introducing The Bear Necessities and a jazzy King Louie to the world. That 1967 film helped to save Disney animation in the 1960s and remains a favourite among generations of movie watchers.

During the past few years, Disney has decided to pull films out of its vault, to translate many animated adventures into live-action adaptations. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) leads the expedition back into the Indian jungle of Rudyard Kipling’s imagination. He reintroduces the world to Mowgli ( played by Neel Sethi), the young boy abandoned in the lush forest and raised by a panther, Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) and a pack of wolves. With whispers of the Tarzan storyline, Mowgli must adapt to life as a “man-cub” among the diverse animals of the jungle. As Mowgli gets older, tyrant tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), grows aware of his existence. Due to the striped carnivore’s history with humans, he desires for the man-cub to be killed. Wisely responding to this threat, Bagheera decides to take the boy to the local “man-village”. Throughout their journey, they encounter snake Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), Baloo the Bear (voice of Bill Murray), and the monkey king Louie (voice of Christopher Walken). In different ways, they attempt to distract Mowgli and Bagheera from their final destination.

While he brings some new twists, Favreau largely stays faithful to the Disney version of Kipling’s legendary tale. The real magic, though, comes in the film’s production. The story is a live-action version of Mowgli’s adventure, but it is all filmed on a sound stage, far from the jungles of India. The jungle and the animals are all produced through the advances in computer-generated imagery. The idea of that may cause some audience members to cringe, but the end result is an amazing ride that is reminiscent of Avatar — but better. Even the cinematic purist will be taken aback by the visual smorgasbord that is provided through this rendition of The Jungle Book.

Another bonus for Favreau is the Kipling tale itself. This is an endearing story that taps into a multitude of relational emotions and the sense of adventure that is timeless. The scriptwriter, Justin Marks, takes liberties with the original narrative, but the heart of the journey is successfully captured in the screenplay and it stands up through this modern retelling. The young lead actor, Need Sethi, bears the weight of the story on his small shoulders, with a convincing performance that conveys how he can manage himself on screen — or even in the deep recesses of the wild. The supporting cast is nothing short of exceptional, but the stand-out performance is Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo the Bear. Filling the role of the beloved bear performed by Phil Harris in the original Disney cartoon, Murray brings the levity needed to balance the intensity of this survival story.

Parents will need to be discerning for the sake of younger children. The story is centred on a vindictive tiger who wants to kill a young boy. This opens the door to plot points that would scare the most hardened adults, let alone young children. However, that need not discourage families from going along to the cinema; consider it merely a warning for parents of young children. Otherwise, The Jungle Book will prove to be a wonderful night at the cinema for the majority of the family.

What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

An element of The Jungle Book story is the value of the larger community. There is a central character to cheer on, but the only way that he survives is by the care and support from the community around him. Throughout the Bible, there are key figures who have been held up above others — but all of them are only able to achieve their goals by relying on the community around them. Moses, David, Gideon and Jesus are great in their own way, but they all saw the value and need of the community around them to do their work. “No man is an island”  is an insightful observation that should be lived out (and is supported in the Word of God).

What does the Bible say about community? (Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:24-25)

Does God care about our physical well being, as well as our spiritual needs? (Psalm 139:14 , 1 Corinthians 6:13)