The final animated film Walt Disney worked on was 1967’s “The Jungle Book.” This year, Disney Pictures has revisited the classic adventure story of Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. Directed by Jon Favreau and featuring an all-star vocal cast, the tale has once again been animated, this time using CG (computer generated) technology. The results are both entertaining and impressive.
Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) was found in the jungle by protective panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and adopted by wolf parents Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Mowgli enjoys life with his wolf siblings until the fateful day a drought reveals the watering hole’s Peace Rock. For jungle animals, this signals a truce between predators and prey. However, angry tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) declares his intent to hunt down Mowgli once the rains return. Khan, who bears physical and emotional damage from interacting with man, sees all humans as threats.
When rain arrives, Mowgli decides he must leave to protect his wolf family. With Bagheera as escort, the boy travels through parts of the jungle he’s never visited. Bagheera intends to take Mowgli to the man village but the boy hopes to remain in the jungle. As they travel, Mowgli meets a variety of animals including honey-loving Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), hungry python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the elephant herd, and ancient primate King Louie (Christopher Walken).
The success of this new adaptation of “The Jungle Book” is due to director Favreau’s talent at blending three key elements – Justin Marks’ screenplay; extensive CG animation; and newcomer Neel Sethi’s performance as Mowgli. Marks’ adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories features a nice balance of humor, suspense, and touching moments. His use of Kipling’s “Law of the Jungle” wolf pack pledge is especially inspiring.
The jungle and its residents were digitally rendered after referencing 100,000 photos of the actual Indian jungle. Multiple CG animation teams collaborated to create the lush environment and 70 animal species.
Action and adventure abound, but a CG jungle and animals meant Sethi had to act without seeing his co-stars or most of the scenery. Director Favreau and puppeteers from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop worked with the boy, providing him with reference points for the animals. The results are breathtaking.
As a tribute, some of the 1967 version’s songs are included. Composer Richard Sherman even wrote new lyrics for “I Wanna Be Like You.” While diehard Disney fans will be pleased, the musical numbers don’t especially enhance this film. The adventure plot already has more than enough strength to stand on its own, making the tributes just extra icing on an already delicious cake.