For those of you who haven’t seen Walt Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book–or haven’t seen it in awhile, anyway–I’m sure you still know the famous songs, and perhaps even some classic scenes. But what you may not realize is that the version we’re most familiar with does have some issues of its own.
Not to say that Disney’s 1967 adaptation is anything to scoff at. It will definitely slap a smile on your face. But with a runtime that could have used a few more minutes, there’s always been some things missing.
Definitely an improvement on the original, 2016’s The Jungle Book fills out the classic story in a much more complete way.
With this one, we get answers to a lot of characters’ motives, as well as more realistic responses to drastic life changes.
There’s backstory provided for why Shere Khan wants to kill Mowgli, along with a more heartfelt goodbye as Mowgli leaves his wolf pack at the beginning of the film.
Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, passes the cute test. Almost so cute and precocious that he fails to give us the realistic performance we desire. Instead, it’s more of what you would see in a Disney Channel show. He’s oozing with “my parents made me audition for this.” Granted, he does alright considering he’s essentially acting with no other humans. And while director Jon Favreau gets the best performance out of him, he’s just a little too much Disney and not enough realistic. Which isn’t far off from original voice actor in 1967, who lacks the same kind of conviction. Compared to him, Sethi is an improvement.
But the narrative is really what drives this movie the hardest. It’s captivating even before the comic relief of Baloo (Bill Murray) shows up. And it has the added benefit of not being too long.
The jungle world created by the filmmakers paints a dark and sinister universe, just as mysterious as the jungle itself. There’s nothing peaceful here as long as Shere Khan is around.
King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken, is just as wicked. He hearkens back to a Marlon Brando Godfather, living in the shadows and attempting to exploit the quid pro quo. This is also where “man’s red flower” becomes more of a prominent feature in this version.
The visual effects are an accomplishment alone. Every hair, every movement, without using any live animals. I’ve never seen anything like it. Truly amazing.
If you romanticize the 1967 original, then you may have a problem accepting this one for all its greatness. But this one is the actuality of what we’ve been romanticizing. And besides the acting, it’s near perfect. It’s darker and even more twisted, transcending Rudyard Kipling’s original source material to the maximum. It replicates the tone–but better. It’s everything good from the original–but better. And even brings back the beloved songs for good measure.