Thursday 7 April 2016

The Jungle Book ... Survival of the fittest

DISNEY gets rid of the racist overtones of The Jungle Book in this live-action film, which has a host
of top names and a newcomer that will make you cheer for the underdog.
   Neel Sethi, as shaggy-haired and dishevelled Mowgli, a human who grows up with a pack of wolves in the wild, shows strength, sensitivity and determination to show what his character can do.
    He also learns to accept his differences from his "family" and bands together weaker animals against a violent tiger named Shere Khan, voiced appropriately menacingly by Idris Elba.

   The film is a computer-generated remake of the 1967 animated film that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s book.
   The jungle atmosphere of the 2016 film reminds me of that in Avatar (2009). When Mowgli runs barefoot in the jungle and uses vines to swing in treetops, all the while accompanied by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the adrenaline rush is reminiscent of that watching James Cameron's film.
    Mowgli is so much part of the wolf pack that his "mother" Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) says: "You will always be mine." The film emphasises that Mowgli is one of the wolves and that they will protect him with all their hearts.
   Mowgli, on his part, knows of no other family and happily dances with the wolves.
Monkey business between Louie (Walken) and Mowgli.
  He even recites the wolf pack's law of the jungle fervently: "As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk that runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
   This means that wolves have rights and responsibilities, just like humans, and that all for one is one for all.
   All that changes when Shere Khan rides roughshod over the animals and says it wants to devour Mowgli at all costs.
  Shere Khan gets rid of wolf pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and sets his eyes on Mowgli, prompting Bagheera to send Mowgli to a human encampment for his own good.
   Along the way, Mowgli befriends lazy fat bear Baloo (wonderfully voiced with humour and compassion by Bill Murray), who tricks him into collecting honey. He also saves a trapped baby elephant.
   Baloo and Bagheera realise that Mowgli is "special" as they do not have his intelligence and wherewithal to do what he has just done.
   Mowgli is also tempted by humongous orang utan Louie (Christopher Walken), who sings enchantingly without the limited linguistic skill of his counterpart in the 1967 film, and which brought about claims of racism against that film.
Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) eyes Mowgli.
   Louie entreats Mowgli to bring fire to him and tempts him with visions of power: "We can rule this jungle."
    Mowgli eventually goes mano a mano with Shere Khan: "I'm not running from you. I'm not afraid of you." This is after Bagheera tells him: "You are not a tiger. Fight him like a man."
   Mowgli returns the kindness that has been heaped on him by the wolves since he was an infant. He fights for the only family he has ever known, and also to exact revenge for the death of the pack leader.
    The live action is fantastically realistic. Mowgli is well portrayed by an enthusiastic Sethi, and Murray, Kingsley, Elba and Walker imbue their characters with grit, humanity and danger.

3 out of 5 stars 

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