“The Jungle Book”

 

                The cinematography is marvelous.  The story, mmm, it drags in places.  But still, “The Jungle Book” is Disney doing IMAX in a way that’s visually appealing and engaging for the whole family.

                Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, and he’s the only “live” character in the film—everyone else is animated, and we only hear their human voices as overdubs.  Nonetheless, some of the voice parts are quite effective:  notably Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the Panther and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the Snake and Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear.  We won’t bother with which of these animated animals might not belong in the Indian jungle; this is a kid’s movie, and the point is that all the animals have learned how to live together.

                That doesn’t mean they abandon their essential natures:  Shere Khan, the Tiger (Idris Elba) is still menacing, but even he honors the truce during the drought: that when the river’s water has receded enough for the “Peace Rock” to appear, then automatically all the animals have a free pass to go drink at the river without fear of being hunted.

                Mowgli is a “man-cub” who was raised by the wolves, but as he grows up he is perceived as a threat by Shere Khan, which puts pressure on the wolf pack to give him up.  Mowgli, sensing their conflict, decides to run away instead, but Shere Khan is still stalking him, so he seeks shelter with Baloo the Bear, who has just rescued him from the enveloping wiles of Kaa the Snake.

                Mowgli has been told that he will find safety in the company of other humans, but he doesn’t want to go their encampment, he wants to stay in the jungle.  The only thing all the animals fear from the humans is their “red flower”---the capacity to harness fire.  Eventually, the red flower will play a part in Mowgli’s story, also, but in the meantime, he helps the Bear find his honey, and helps the elephant herd rescue a calf who’d fallen into a pit.

                And, of course, we have the delightful reprise of Baloo and Mowgli floating down the river singing “Bare Necessities,” the happy song made famous in the original (fully animated) film.  This movie, though, consisting mostly of Mowgli running from danger, is not really happy-go-lucky. It may be a bit intense for the youngest children.  But it is a refreshing tale of harmony in nature, of peaceful coexistence between the animals and this one jungle boy, who’s innocent and charming, but also clever and resourceful.  Maybe like Adam before there was an Eve, cavorting in the Garden of Eden?  Or maybe more like a young Tarzan before there was a Jane, forming a special relationship with the powerful elephants?  And unlike those halcyon tales, this time we’re reveling in a happy ending.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   Is nature inherently harmonious, or is it just a dog-eat-dog world in the animal kingdom?

2)                  What would it take for humans to decide on a “Peace Rock,” where all conflict is suspended for a season?

3)                  Besides the control of fire, what is it that separates humankind from the animals?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association