By Gabriella Shery ‘17
Like me, you may be reluctant to accept that hand-drawn animation is now a thing of the past, but Mowgli in the new version of The Jungle Book will pull you along on his action-packed journey to the periphery of civilization and back to the heart of the jungle.
According to accesshollywood.com, director Jon Favreau and his team used blue screens and computer-generated imagery to render as realistically as possible animals like the sage black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and the towering ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). Their movements are paired with fur textures so hyperrealistic that The Jungle Book makes it hard to believe that the 10-year-old man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is the only flesh-and-blood actor on screen. The character designs and scenery act as a benchmark in the seemingly limitless realm of animation. Whether it’s an ancient temple crumbling or fleeting images of serene reservoirs, the shifts from action to moments of catharsis make it difficult to remember that The Jungle Book wasn’t filmed in the wilderness of India.
The original 1967 animated version of the film posed a challenge for Favreau in that he had to create characters that audiences would be familiar with. He succeeded at this while still taking his own creative liberties in either magnifying or minimizing certain aspects of characters. This is exemplified in King Louie, who is no longer a scat-singing orangutang but a Gigantopithecus, a now-extinct type of large ape and a better fit for the character’s size. Other characters are drawn closer to their voice actors, like Baloo (Bill Murray), who takes on Murray’s heavy lids and raised eyebrows, while maintaining both the character’s and actor’s trademark carefree attitudes.
Disappointingly, the musical aspect of the live action film is not as organically incorporated as in the animated version. The remake never commits to being a musical, featuring only a few of the songs from the original, like The Bear Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You. What made the songs’ inclusions even more unfamiliar, but nonetheless exciting, is Murray’s scrapping of Baloo’s original tune and for his own original take on The Bear Necessities.
While the original animated version of The Jungle Book portrays a sugared depiction of Mowgli’s carefree life in the jungle, the new film focuses more on action and the menace of death as an inevitable part of life, which is actually closer to Rudyard Kipling’s novel. Accordingly, Favreau’s version has a darker color scheme against which Shere Khan (Idris Elba) terrorizes Mowgli’s adoptive wolf pack or lurks in the distance. In this way, Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book at times becomes almost an animated portrayal of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. It is a movie whose technological wizardry not only bridges the gap between the worlds of make-believe and reality, but whose story teach timeless lessons on belonging, fear, and humility through friendship.