Your Childhood Disney Classics Are Back

As a child my all-time favorite film was The Jungle Book.  So much so that my dad and I watched it every night before bed and my first pet, a toy poodle (picked out when I was three), was named King Louie. When Disney announced that they were recreating this classic, you can imagine my excitement and circumspect about it. So far, it has made over $100 million at the box office and is racking up incredibly rave reviews.  I was still worried while heading to the theater that Disney would mess around with my favorite film and disappoint the little Cori that lives inside.

This reinvention of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is directed by Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man, Chefand was adapted by Justin Marks. It comes to us on the 49th anniversary of Disney’s 1967 classic of the same title. I will say the team stuck very true to both Kipling and its previous film version, but still put an entirely new lens on Mowgli and his jungle friends.

The Jungle Book also brings a wide array of acting talent (as per Disney’s way) including Bill Murray as the bumbling Baloo, Ben Kingsley as the sleek and solemn Bagheera, and even a surprise in the gender switch of Kaa to Scarlett Johansson. Favreau said there were just too many male characters in the film and she committed to the role despite being eight months pregnant during filming, awww.

Neel Sethi and Scarlett Johansson in 'The Jungle Book' Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Neel Sethi and Scarlett Johansson in ‘The Jungle Book’ Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The real showstopper of the film is little Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli. This kid is just adorable and seems to be much younger than his true age of thirteen. Little Mowgli did a great job for working practically alone in a fully CGI world. Although occasionally, he’s pretty monotone and not extremely expressive…“Ow. I’m getting stung” should be, “OW! I’m getting STUNG!,” but Sethi’s frank delivery of lines is kind of cute and endearing.

The effects are really awesome, especially because the animals aren’t real. According to IMDB, the filming took place fully on sound stages and nobody set foot in India, even though the film is based in the Indian Jungle. The animals were created with key frame computer animation and Sethi had to act opposite puppets entirely in Los Angeles. Pictures were taken in India and the film modeled some of those locations. I couldn’t stop making connections to Avatar while watching and was wishing I had seen the jungle come to life in 3D.

The music incorporated from the classic film is a cute touch and makes it easier to appreciate. Songs like, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” made it into the film. Although, I’m not cool with Kaa speaking the words to “Trust In Me.” She could have sung it, come on! John Debney created the score,  his 13th for a Disney film. Richard M. Sherman wrote the music for the original songs.

The storyline goes in the same order as before and the appearances of the characters are familiar.  But I’m gonna say it…I do not like Bill Murray as Baloo. Okay, I said it. I know how everyone feels about Murray, and I’m not complaining about his performance necessarily, but I don’t like how manipulative he is toward Mowgli. The way his character was portrayed makes me dislike and distrust him. It’s nothing like the old Baloo. This bear also sticks out like a sore thumb in the Indian Jungle; he should be a Sloth Bear. King Louie (Christopher Walken) and his species were also altered, switched in this film to Gigantopithecus instead of Orangutan. These guys are extinct, huge, and I’m not sure I understand the reason for the switch. Cool idea I guess, but he’s so…immobile and sounds like he’s from Brooklyn.

Here’s a thought: the fight scenes, especially one between Bagheera and Shere Khan (Idris Elba) seem way too scary for children, even more so because it is so realistic. There is one portion where wildebeests are stampeding through a quarry and I immediately had PTSD from Mufasa’s death in The Lion King. I did like the way the animals interact with each other; there is a lot of dialogue and constant action happening. I would definitely not call this film slow. While watching you can feel the bustle and life of the jungle. There’s sort of a fusion between Life of Pi and Dr. Dolittle.

Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi in 'The Jungle Book' Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi in ‘The Jungle Book’ Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The allusions to the classic film are cute and nostalgic for my age group; however kids today are most likely not going to catch them. Frankly, having these bits of homage to a different film that isn’t going to land with the current generation is silly, because it doesn’t make for multiple viewings of this film. Without knowing the classic, this film might seem strange – there’s no singing or dancing in Avatar or Life of Pi for good reason: it doesn’t fit. This film could have worked better as a sort of Hook to the classic Disney’s Peter Pan. Not a remake, but an incredible expansion that grew with the generation able to appreciate both.

At the end of the day, I was excited about the film and I enjoyed watching it. It’s engaging even though we all know the story; there is fresh inspiration. Any baggage I brought to the theater isn’t really fair, so I will discount my utmost love for the original Disney classic and just consider how I feel about this film in its entirety. The CGI is gorgeous and the animals are entertaining. I liked that it was released a week early in India to pay tribute to the Indian Jungle setting. I will definitely watch it again, and it’s definitely good for the preteen plus crowd. Essentially, I can dig it.