If you are a 90’s kid, your idea of the Jungle Book is what most of India loves and remembers. Doordarshan brought to your primetime slot, a heavily Hindi version of Kipling’s Jungle book, so much so that fewer people realised they were actually watching Japanese Animation. Laced with catchy tunes, babble lyrics and an unusually bright and happy overtone, it caught the frenzy of its little targets, who gaped at their wide screens each day since it debuted in 1993.
Cut to 2016, and Disney brings us a Mowgli that we are not so familiar with, but soon start to befriend as he unfolds his story on the screen. Disney releases a more real saga set in a menacing world that is so tautly written and sharply edited, that its rises above all as a more human experience – recognisable, dark, gritty and one that keeps its soul intact. Kipling as we know, was an Imperialist and his Mowgli was written from that perspective. Located in the Seeonee hills, he living a sprightly and happy man-cub life in the company of the wolves, surviving on ‘bare necessities’. Recounting in an India that is both exotic and timeless, Kipling’s classic remains crowned in Childrens’ literature. Jon Favreau’s take however is less Kipling and more Disney, just not dreamy enough. His adaptation of the classic goes along the lines of Disney’s recent adventures with live action animation (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella) relying more on spectacle than substantiating all of Kipling’s fantasy. It is an offence we pardon for every frame is computer-generated-visually- arresting animation work that raises the bar by a leap. (Take a bow, Jon!) A self-proclaimed Gravity and Avatar fan, Favreau’s film has only one live action character in the charming twelve-year-old Neel Sethi, everything else is CGI and motion-captures. The detailed recreations of the animals were set on various studies of talking animal characters since cinema happened and mind you they get it cent percent right!
Favreau sticks to ‘larger than life’, injecting Kipling’s mannerisms to these oversized beings, in a sense conveying ‘little’ Mowgli’s vulnerability in the perils of the unknown forest. Resemblances to the characters voicing the animals, are key to the animation details of ‘The Jungle Book’, Kingsley’s Bagheera is squint enough to remind us of the excellent actor as he guides Mowgli with sharp lip movements and controlled baritone. But our hearts go out to the endearing Christopher Walken, whose stint as the nine feet tall ape with Walken-y blue eyes stays long after you’ve watched the film and probably owns the film’s most brilliant sequence. Let us also shout out to the particularly ‘double-faced’ CGI brilliance, backed by neat performances by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, as Baloo and Kaa respectively. The character of the animals modelled on the actors voicing them is a eureka moment for cinematic animation.
What Disney hints back at is the ‘Circle of Life’, much like its segregation of good from the bad. This may not quite exist in Kipling’s Jungle world, where the animals shift their purpose and identities as the plot develops or one where Mowgli learns to hunt and fend for his own against the menacing Sher Khan. We have come away from Kipling’s India formed mostly on his childhood, the stories he grew up on and hearsay. Favreau takes this memory and makes it more relatable, infusing it with a sense of discovery and marvel. Its endearing to see little Mowgli discover the large world within his jungle as he gets introduced (for better or for worse) to the many animals – little joys of wonder in a larger adventure that takes on contemporaneity with sheer technical genius.
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