The story of Mowgli has been adapted before, most notably in Disney’s 1967 animated version of the tale, based on Rudyard Kipling’s collection of 19th century stories. Disney is currently in the process of updating several of their animated classics, which began with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010 and has continued through to Maleficent in 2014 and Cinderella last year.
I feel The Jungle Book is likely to go down as one of the most successful updates the studio will undertake. The film begins almost identically to the 67 version with the same intro music and opening lines, however it quickly becomes its own animal. We see Mowgli living and running with his wolf pack. We are then introduced to several new concepts in the form of the “law of the Jungle” from the original book and a water truce, which is broken by the introduction of Shere Khan who wants the man cub handed over to him.
From here the film cuts away from its predecessor to an extent, we see Mowgli escape via a Buffalo stampede and are then treated to the visual marvel of Kaa the snake, voiced by Scarlet Johansson. Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray is another successful casting and Baloo and Mowgli’s relationship is done well, although perhaps not as well as in the 1967 version.
For me the highlights of the film are the snake sequence, as I have already mentioned, as well as Christopher Walken’s King Louie. No longer an Orangutan but a giant, near-extinct ape, he brings some song and dance, singing a few lines of ‘I wanna be like you’ but also a fear factor to the movie. A second fear factor comes in the form of Idris Elba’s Shere Khan who is very menacing and at times quite scary. It is safe to say that Disney took a much darker tone with this version of The Jungle Book especially with the scenes involving the tiger. Disney has also made sure to flesh out the role of the wolves and the elephants in this version.
I feel most of the voice cast are great especially Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Christopher Walken. Neel Sethi is also good in his first film role acting mainly with CGI animals.
If talk of a sequel is true, Disney has a lot to live up to. However, Jon Favreau seems to be a safe set of hands, and there is more source material to work from so perhaps a follow-up is justified.