Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o
(PG, 111 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Kids and Family
“Let go of your fear now and trust in me.” The snake, Kaa
A celebration of life for the whole family, a near perfect cast, and astonishingly, real looking computer generated animals that teach and delight. What more could you ask for?
Your kids or grandkids are sure to love this reinvention of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but then they might be as easily entertained by something as mediocre as The Angry Birds, too. The difference is that you will find this film entertaining as well, and it teaches some very good life lessons, too.
Am I the only one to notice that it is now children’s films that give us the insight into human nature that we used to expect from all films? So many current adult films are skewed to present politically correct narratives that they often become joyless screeds that scold as often as they entertain.
You’ll find very little scolding in this Disney adventure, and without ever being preachy, it gives some excellent and often neglected lessons of life.
Evil exists and it cannot be explained away. The tiger Shere Khan, with the formidable Idris Elba lending him gravitas, is almost pure malice. His undying revenge for the child of the man who scarred him with fire is an unquenchable thirst. His evil nature is never rationalized or justified as is the case with many other villains in contemporary film. Khan kills without remorse to lure Mowgli (Neel Sethi) back into the jungle and into his clutches, and even toys with the now orphaned wolf brother cubs.
It is not enough to break his truce with the wolf pack and kill their wise ruler, Akela, but he relishes in coopting the cubs’ favor. “I think they like me,” he tells Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), their wolf mother.
Goodness also exists, and it must always be vigilant. Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the black panther who finds the toddler Mowgli and gives him to the she wolf to raise, continues to instruct the man cub. That the panther and wolves protect Mowgli, while the tiger wants his blood, is never really explained, just as the existence of goodness seems to exist without rational explanation either. Yet those following the path of goodness must ever be looking over their shoulder, too. And Mowgli learns to run from evil when he must in daily practice with the panther playing the predator.
“If you can't learn to run with the pack, one of these days you'll be someone's dinner, ” Bagheera instructs the boy.
Natural fear is healthy, and trust should not be given lightly. This important lesson is almost fatal for Mowgli when the hypnotic snake Kaa lures him with her sweet words. Her seductive voice finds perfection in Scarlet Johansson, as she slowly entwines herself around the sleepy boy. Kaa’s promises ring as false as many that children will face in this increasingly dangerous world.
This visual picture of the snake coiled around Mowgli will reinforce the warning of the sweet words of manipulation.
“Let go of your fear now and trust in me.”
Kaa, the soft-spoken serpent of The Jungle Book is an inoculation against such siren songs.
The lust for power can be insatiable and self-destructive. King Louie (Christopher Walken), a carefree orangutan Disney introduced in the 1967 animated version of Kipling’s story, is now a huge gigantopithecus, which apparently did once exist in India, but for all intents and purposes, he still looks like an orangutan, albeit a “yuge” one. In the current film Louie talks like a character from “The Sopranos,” and has about as much sense, too.
Not content to live in the splendor of his monkey temple, with all the lesser apes answering to his every beck and call, he wants even more power, the red flower from the man village. Fire.
Not good. And King Louie more than gets his comeuppance.
Man’s ingenuity sets him apart from other animals. The current trend is to equate humans with animals. Their lives are equal to ours, as we have seen recently in the furor over the decision to kill a gorilla to save a child. This view is what Bagheera the panther and Mowgli’s wolf pack at first accept.
Mowgli must act like a wolf. He can’t use any tricks his human creativity and intelligence naturally promote, such as capturing water with in improvised shell-bowl instead of lapping it up from the river as all the other jungle creatures do.
The two-footed man must somehow run as fast as the wolves to survive.
Baloo the bear, with Bill Murray’s fun-loving voice adding to our entertainment, is the first to notice Mowgli’s exceptional nature and not to rebuke him for it. After all, Mowgli has used his brains to engineer a system for securing all the honey Baloo wants from the hives on the sheer cliff above.
And then when Mowgli dares to approach the elephants, held like gods in a fearful awe by all the jungle creatures, not only living to tell about it, but actually using his wits to avert an elephant tragedy, even Bagheera is impressed.
Finally, he accepts the man cub for what he is rather than forcing him to be like the wolves that had adopted him. In his final showdown with the fierce tiger Shere Kan Mowgli wants to fight along side the wolf pack.
Bagheera: You can't fight him like a wolf! You're NOT a wolf!
Bagheera: Fight him like a man!
While Disney’s original 1967 animated Jungle Book was funny and heart-warming, with tunes that stayed with you, this film is superior. It has some humor, but resonates with greater meaning.
And in a world of increasing menace, the lessons it teaches are needed now more than ever.
When Mowgli meets the great ape King Louie in the crumbling monkey temple, he offers him some papayas from the pile of food and loot at his feet.
Our special Indian drink uses mangos instead, but mixed with creamy yogurt, it is just delicious and fitting for a king or a man cub. And easy enough that the kiddos could easily make it themselves.
Mango Lassi Drink
"An Indian yogurt drink - smooth, creamy, and absolutely heavenly!"
2 mangos - peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup ice
In a blender, combine mangos, yogurt, sugar and ice. Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.