Unlike most Indians of my generation, I was smitten by the old Jungle Book animation movie from 1967 (aside – holy shit, how could it have been that good in 19 effing 67!!!) and not so much the TV cartoon series of the 90’s. The more I think of that movie as an adult, and I spent some time watching YouTube videos of it before seeing the new one – the more I am convinced it was truly a modern masterpiece – something both adults and children would love to watch multiple time, with humour, names, music and a storyline which will bear ripe paw-paw fruits on repeated viewing.So it was difficult to not compare everything about the new Jungle Book through a prism of nostalgia. I thought some things worked wonderfully, others not so.
The story first : the set up was wonderful – the context, the immediate trigger with the drought, life with the wolf-pack, the back story to Sher-Khan (not just a villainous tiger), why the elephants need to be respected, right up to Akeela (or should it actually be Akela) being swatted away? It’s then that I thought things got a bit rushed. I remember Kaa being a more grey character than the villain she is here and with more than a blink and miss it role. Baloo’s friendship with the man-cub was based on a nice premise of the lazy, conniving bear – but the process of becoming such fast friends (to the extent that Bagheera has to tell Baloo “You’re the only one he’ll listen to”) was rushed and didn’t seem genuine. Likewise the part with King Louie in the ruins; I loved the change from the orangutan (?) to a Gigantopithicus but his overall pitch didn’t come across as very well thought of. Also why’d he destroy his own home blundering about so carelessly? And then the climax – thought the entire plot contrived by Mowgli to beat Sher Khan was too complicated and frankly a bit confusing. I understand he wanted to have a dead tree breakdown but what the man cub was doing with ropes and pulleys for 5 minutes is beyond what the TG (kids < 12 I assume) would have been able to make sense of. And of course, I missed the vultures!
What however stuck out even more for me was the ending. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve got no issues with him continuing to hang out in the jungle with his pals and I’m sure there’s a message of inclusion to be passed on there. What I was a bit disappointed by was that there wasn’t any reason given for the change of thought from ‘needing to be with your own’ to ‘it’s okay, you can continue to stay here’. Was the only reason Sher Khan’s being after his life? Especially after accidentally setting the entire jungle aflame, thought it would have been a much more logical message that the man cub can’t continue to stay here despite the best of intentions.
The other gripe I have is with the music – the stand out from the old movie even years and years later. And while this is not even positioned as a happy, fun musical in any way – they’ve still used the songs, just not used it right which is a travesty of many kinds. The Bare Necessities is a background score for parts of the second half, but the rendition in the river is meh. Definitely not going to blow away a first time listener I assume. King of the Swingers started out of no-where, it was almost like the director was thinking ‘I have this great song which I simply must fit in over here’. And Trust In Me came in at the latter half of the credits at which stage you might not have had it either. Also considering the endless opportunities, the credits were a bit of a downer as well.
That’s not to say it’s not a fun ride. It is. The animation & 3D is really incredible and adds value – the animals don’t seem like caricatures in any way but there’re more like the tiger from Life of Pi – surreally real. The changes to the story ensure there’s a bit of suspense in it even for jaded veterans. And nostalgia does it bit as well. The critical review is what the ‘fanboy’ in me which I discovered over the course of watching the movie is feeling!
3 stars for the Jungle Book – watch it encumbered of any benchmarks and you might give it some more!