A movie needs to stand on its own to be rated well, usually. It should not be rated too heavily on if it has been adapted well, if it is exactly as its source was or how much nostalgia comes with it. But, for India, that is not REALLY possible when it comes to The Jungle book. IT IS JUST IMPOSSIBLE. Indian national broadcaster Doordarshan , who ruled supreme then ran a dubbed version of the acclaimed anime “Jungle book Shonen Mowgli” in the 90s, and i dare anyone to find someone who lived through 90s and can not sing the amazing “Jungle jungle baat chali hai” !
So it was clear from the start that everyone in India, including me, will love it. Question was how much – and that is where the other actual factors come in. I am glad to say this is a movie that doesn’t just stand there saying “hey, u remember that movie or series u liked? I have that story, sort of.” With the adaptations as live action Disney in my opinion has fallen into three traps so far.
1. Alice in wonderland – changing it so much that viewers who are familiar with the story can’t connect
2. Maleficent – taking too much from the story and trying to darken it as much as possible, and losing the message that movie should have had.
3. Cinderella – adapting the story , but forgetting to change the message that is now really outdated.
The Jungle book does none of that. It adapts BRILLIANTLY from the 1967 classic that Disney created and makes some interesting changes, which work Because first, Justin Mark has written a version that is closer to the original stories written by Rudyard Kipling. ( Walt Disney forbade his animators to read the original versions because he found it too violent and dark, and he was not ready to show on the screen) Mark and Jon Favreau ( director of Elf, Chef and Iron man, Monica’s once BF Pete Baker on Friends) have got no hesitation and set up for a story which gives characters like Shere khan better motives, characters like Mowgli a better development and sets up for a finale that is much more rousing and interesting than the original one had.
The story is written quite well. It does a fantastic job of introducing each and every character and manages to build them in whatever time given to them. The story is well paced through out, and when needed (i.e. during the Mowgli- Balloo time) it slacks off, and the movie just enjoys itself. While the movie is very heavily adapted from 1967 movie “The Jungle book“, there are enough changes and twists to let you feel the freshness of this Jungle book. However well written, the story cannot come across well if the stars do not perform, and here, young Neel Sethi’s Mowgli shines.
It is very important to note that The Jungle Book is shot completely in a studio in downtown LA, in front of a green screen. Whatever we see young Mowgli doing in the movie, Neel did it with nothing in front of him most of the time. Every little thing he wonders about, everything that makes him happy, angry, sad, exists only in his mind. And it is not easy to bring across properly, but the new comer and at the time just 10 year old Neel does it brilliantly. His Mowgli is slightly awkward young boy, who never exactly fits in, but that doesn’t stop him from stepping into a situation with nothing but full heart. Isn’t that all Mowgli is about?
Neel deals with all the situations thrown at him very effectively in whatever situation he is in. As the movie goes on, you can FEEL Mowgli growing up, taking on the hits and becoming the better man for it. In an interesting twist, Mowgli is more of an amateur engineer/whiz kid whose tricks not only make his fellow jungle mates uncomfortable but also plays an integral role in the story. I found it one of the better changes done in the movie. Mowgli is a hella smart kid that one just cannot help but root for. Another important thing I liked was how the director records every event with scars and bruises on Mowgli’s body. It makes his vulnerability in the big bad jungle that much more impressive and his fits more interesting.
THE CGI of The Jungle book
One must always remember that this is a live action -CGI Hybrid movie. And nothing but Neel is real in the movie, so the movie depends largely on how well the CGI holds. and TBH, it is JUST FANTASTIC. The jungle feels REAL. It is beautiful without being so overdone that you cannot believe it is real and still feels majestic. Speaking about animals , they have been done very well. The animals feel very real, especially when moving about or in action. They are not perfect when they are speaking and you have a close up, but still believable. The one I found that might cause issues for some people is Balloo, but I feel it went well with the character. The sounds created for them provides an extra dimension which makes them better ( for example , rustling of Kaa the snake). Shere khan is probably the best production in my opinion, but rest measure up well too!
THE VOICE ACTING
In a movie like this, the voice acting matters too much and The Jungle book takes home many wins here.
1. Shere Khan
( Sher means Tiger or Lion in Hindi) Idris Alba is awesome here as Shere khan. He is wily and menacing, u can feel the danger emanating from him. His scene with Raksha is probably the most chilling one he had. On Hindi front Nana Patekar steals the thunder though. Patekar did the dubbing in the 1990s anime too, and from what I hear, these guys actually asked Disney NOT to translate their dialogues and did them themselves, creating a dubbed version that is perfect and one of the best I have ever seen ( Hindi dubs, as a rule, makes me want to bang my head on the wall) No offence to ALba, but Patekar is just a bit better.
(Bhaloo is bear in Hindi) Bill Murray did a very good job as Balloo. I don’t kno about you but I think Murray is retty much like a sloth bear in real life too and I am sure that helped, lol.
I feel Hindi dub took another win here though. Irfaan Khan (Life of Pie, Inferno<2016>, Jurassic World) plays the bear like he is Punjabi and typically I hate such kind of dubbing, but this just works somehow. The weird mannerism of animated Balloo matches more with the Punjabi bear we have in Hindi IMO and it just works much better.
Ben Kinglsey as Bagheera( a black panthar in Hindi) is awesome. Kipling describes him as “Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui( a jackal), as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.” and this one comes very close to this, though the anime one still wins for me.
On the Hindi side Om Puri (City of joy, East is East, Wolf among others) was BRILLIANT as a narrator, but did not feel as good as Bagheera himself. His version felt much more older and tired. it takes a bit of time to accept his voice , but after that, he does a decent job.
( Protection in Hindi) : Lupita Nyong’o continues her impressive work and on the Hindi side Shefali Shah matches it well.
It is a small role , but Scarlett Johanson makes it worth so much more! She was JUST PERFECTION. She was seriously snakelike and hypnotizing in it and amazing visuals which were trippy as hell that accompanied her made her scene one of the very beast this movie has to offer.
Priyanka Chopra ( Quatico v series lead, former Miss world Upcoming Baywatch villain) did the job brilliantly too. Beating ScarJo at this was always gonna be impossible, but DAMN, she made it a lot closer than I would have believed!
6. King Louis
Christopher Walken was GREAT in this one. The choice to make him what he is here might not work for everyone, but I felt it suited well to Walken and the song itself felt like a fan made Walken impressions that internet throws at us and we enjoy so much! His Louis felt like a Walken + Godfather co,bo and I really liked it.
The Hindi dubbing was done using another stereotypical dubbing choice, but that worked for the movie ( You will realize why when u see it) and was decent. ( PS Bandar log means Monkey people in Hindi)
The rest characters like Akela the wolf ( Funnily enough, means The Lone wolf in Hindi) or Mowgli’s little brothers were done well but left me wishing we had more time with them. What Favreau did with the elephants was rather brilliant too.
All in all, this made for a very impressive adaption that did not lose the good points of its 1967 predecessor but did not hesitate in making changes that mostly worked for it. The good sgtory and characters and brilliant acting/ voice acting were very ably backed by the direction of Jon Favreau. The man had a clear and beautiful vision of what ths movie whould be like and I feel even Late Walt Disney would have liked what he has achieved here. The action packed movie rolls of fast on face gluing you to the seat but it doesn not forget what it is about. It doesn’t forget to take a breath and enjoy itself. It does not forget to feel the pain, or to inflict it upon us. This is a coming of age story for Mowgli and the movie works for it almost continuously, working till it reaches a great climax with Mowgli standing tall and much more sure of his place in the world. Even though it is darker than the 1967 movie, it does not mean The Jungle book is not funny. The songs placed in the movie DO feel out of place but they work because of nostalgia.
When you come out of the theater, you will come out satisfied with the movie, your Nostalgia pushed to the limits and with the joy of watching a cinematic beauty. I sat both times in theater packed mostly with my generation and their kids, and everyone of my generation seemed to feel this was an amazing adaptation and we FINALLY have some justice done for our childhood. And the next generation loved it just the same. And for that, I must thank everyone associated with the film.
Both versions are great, but I will give the Hindi version a slight edge for Indians who grew up with the show. The nostalgia factor is just too high because of it. The dubbing is done smoothly, not by a google translate app, but by actual people who care about the quality of film. The Jungle Book feels as alive in Hindi as it is in English. Neel Sethi did the Hindi Mowgli dubbint too and he had no accent there, another win for him! Frankly, I haven’t enjoyed a dubbing like this since Pirates of Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest. A big thumbs up on a job well done!
Box office and What Is Next
TBH, predicting a BO of a movie like this is less easy than that of a Superhero flick. But, as of now, The Jungle Book is projected at a 70+ million first weekend. I personally feel that it should cross 80+ with the vacation, the great reviews (at the time of writing, 93% RT score and 78/100 Metacritic) and a great word of mouth that has so far made movie successful in the territories it has released so far (India for example, had an incredible 8.4 million weekend, the 2nd biggest ever for a Hollywood flick and 2nd biggest yet in 2016 overall). 90 is not out of limits, with previous movies legs other than Zootopia, which should finally fall big after 6 incredible weeks.
With that, a 200+ USA BO and 600+ Worldwide should be easy for the movie, but I feel as it is projected to do much better in International markets, a 250+ and 700+ BOs is what we might be looking at.
Disney is already so sure of this movie that they already have The Jungle Book 2 in development. Jon Favreau and Justin Mark are in talks for the return, and almost all of the casts wants to return. Seeing as Neel Sethi may hit growth spurt soon, I would expect a fast production. Kipling wrote a lot of Jungle book stories so there is scope there. I would personally like more along the lines of The graveyard book by Neil Gaiman for the second part.
At the same time WB have their “Jungle book” ( they removed “:origins” from the name ) coming up in 2018. It has a stellar cast too and has Andy Serkis at the helm. Very interesting to see what twist he can give us to set his Jungle book apart, especially when The Jungle book 2 might be out before or around the same time it comes out. There is gonna be a lot of comparison when it does and let’s hope we get another cracker of a movie there!
- Stunning CGI
- Brilliant Voice Acting
- Excellent Adaptation