The Jungle Book
First Zootopia, then The Jungle Book, and later this year Alice Through the Looking Glass. Nothing like being an aging man unashamedly embracing the joys of youth.
Disney has now hit two gigantic home runs in 2016. First there was the magnificent Zootopia, which still is drawing crowds in the theater weeks after its release, and now we have the very special The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. It is in every respect a tribute to the original film released in 1967.
As most of you know, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a child/cub raised by wolves in the jungle after his father was killed by Shere Khan, a vicious tiger voiced by Idris Elba. (Ironically, he was also the arrogant police chief in Zootopia.) As fate would have it, the monster cat reappears and seeks to devour Mowgli, forcing him to escape with the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) on a journey to return to human civilization.
Along the way they experienced some great adventures, the most notable being the demonic boa constrictor Kaa (Scarlett Johannson) and the lovable, incredibly lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray). The friendship formed by Baloo and Mowgli is truly inspirational, and seeing them drift down a river using Baloo as a raft while jointly singing “The Bare Necessities” will leave you quietly mouthing the words in your seat.
However, one of Mowgli’s most compelling encounters was with the giant Bandarlog ape known as King Louie (Christopher Walken). Set in ancient ruins long lost in the jungle, Louie and his minions seek to force Mowgli to return with fire, the source of human power. Mowgli’s escape with the help of both Bagheera and Baloo is a load of fun to watch, particularly as you listen to Mr. Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”.
However, the ending involves majestic special effects combined with a plot that will bring you to the edge of tears. On top of that, it is likely to scare the daylights out of children under the age of 8.
More to the point, Mowgli discovers that his wolf father has been killed by Shere Khan, and he returns with fire to seek retribution. Though you all know the likely outcome, the encounter between our antagonists unfolds to the point where you are left in doubt to the very end.
Ironically, Zootopia and The Jungle Book share an underlying theme, namely a place where all animals, even deadly foes, can join together in a spirit of friendship. In Zootopia, it was the city whose name is reflected by the film’s title, and in The Jungle Book, it is a small lagoon that is the only place for animals to find water during a terrible drought.
As I sat in the theater as the film ended, I thought we humans could learn something from the animal kingdom. As I dictate this review, my wife and I just returned from the vet where one of our rescue dogs dying of cancer was put to sleep. Her name was Cookie, and we loved that little spud. Wouldn’t it be inspirational if all human beings treated each other with the same love and respect we do our little pets?