The movie poster of The Jungle Book was plastered to the side of the cinema. A tropical scene boasting waterfalls, green trees, and lush wildlife filled the rectangular frame. It stuck out among the crowd of action-packed sci-fi adventures. Would this modern movie stand out from original, animated version? My grandmother and I bet two tickets and a Sunday afternoon that it would!
We were seven minutes into the deep pit of the theater. Previews of fun films we would probably never see flashed by the screen. Then the music started: horns and brass flared! Directed by Jon Favreau, best-known for Iron Man, the Jungle Book began as an epic.
First, Neel Sethi as Mogli was adorable!! A native New Yorker, this was his breakout role. He had impish expressions and tons of energy. It could be a challenge for any actor to bring to life a scene of computer co-star talking wolves, and he nailed it with Disney-finesse. I can’t wait to see what else this young actor achieves.
Into the story, I have a totally different perspective of The Jungle Book now than I did when I was little. Then, it was more about singing animals and adventure. Those qualities are definitely still there! But now, I am more aware of the overarching themes that underly the plot like Kaa in the thick trees.
For example, there is a stark contrast between fun-loving Baloo and serious Bagheera.
Baloo lives in the present. This big bear bends the perception of the truth into what will best fit his needs. He does this manipulate Mogli into climbing to a stinging beehive. This fits the stereotype of “no work, all play.” What a trickster!
Baloo doesn’t seem to have remorse about his behavior and sees no problem being alone with the “bare necessities,” until he falls into friendship. By the end of the movie, he asserts his place in the Wolf Pack society and repeats the “propaganda” that he once was separate from. Baloo goes from being apart from the pack to being a part of it.
On the other hand, Bagheera, a majestic panther with an English accent, represents lawful order. He cares about the past, and focuses on the future while trying to uphold tradition. Not always perfect, he guides Mogli out of the jungle back to the man-village. (Don’t get me started on the Village vs Jungle theme! It is a gorgeous allusion to Society vs Nature, respectively. For more on this classic pairing, investigate Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.)
In the context of geography, this character symbolizes India’s Colonization by the British. The original book drawings anthropomorphize Bagheera by giving him a spectacle. This regional accessory give him an English air.
We can then extend the rhetoric so that Bagheera represents the British as a whole. Then we see the taming of the wild jungle, fire as knowledge, and Elephant-respect as overarching themes.
We see this criticism further through the valueless yet prized collection of the Monkey-king who “wants to be like you, you, you” a la Ariel. This is a subtle way of mocking society and hierarchy in general.
Mogli’s two mentors provide him different styles of teaching to fit his changing needs as he develops as a character and man. The self-fulfilling sense of destiny Mogli encounters stays true to Disney style. Events are predicted, fought against, and ultimately fulfilled.
Ultimately, this movie left me feeling fulfilled. The action sequences were top-notch, the characters were endearing, and I even teared up a few times. I feel like The Jungle Book did justice to a childhood memory.
Bonus goes to Scarlet Jo-hot-sson for her VO skills as Kaa the anaconda! This goes to her for balancing the public’s fear of snakes with an engaging, relatable character. Kaa would have been too scary if the same voice as the aggressive tiger had been used. Instead, I wanted to note her hypnotic, sultry lullaby.