Lately, the Walt Disney Company has been making everyone’s childhood dreams come true with a number of live-action reboots of their most popular movies. We’ve already seen Maleficent—an alternative perspective of Sleeping Beauty—Cinderella—a new fantastical twist on the classic tale—and Pan—the story of how Peter Pan never grew up. Everyone is also abuzz about the new Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid remakes, which have A-list celebrities such as Emma Watson set to star in them. The latest Disney remake to hit theaters is The Jungle Book, written by Justin Marks and directed by Jon Favreau. The Jungle Book was originally a collection of tales written by English author Rudyard Kipling and later turned into an animated film in 1994.
The film is a combination of computer-generated imagery animation and live acting. The only human actor in the film is Mowgli—played by 12-year-old Neel Sethi. Both the animals and the jungle environment are CGI, but in order to create a heightened sense of reality, animal behaviors were acted out by their voice actors and then translated into animation. What results is animation so realistic that one cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is computer-generated.
That being said, the film is not without star-power. A famous cast of actors—both new and old—voice the key jungle animals that most fans will remember from the 1994 film. Among the fairly new actors are Lupita Nyong’o—who was celebrated for her roles in 12 Years a Slave and Star Wars: The Force Awakens—as well as Idris Elba—star of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the BBC hit “Luther.” Nyong’o plays Raksha, the fiercely loyal mother wolf who raised Mowgli from a baby to a young boy, while Elba plays the chief villain of the story—Shere Khan, the ruthless tiger who harbors resentment against all humans and their “red flower.”
The film also includes seasoned actors, most notably Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and Scarlett Johansson. A lot of the buzz has surrounded Murray, whose character Baloo is a seemingly perfect fit for the actor. Baloo is a lovable oaf of a bear who cracks the film’s only jokes, in many ways mirroring Murray’s down to earth personality.
Kingsley’s role as the ever-so-wise and accepting Bagheera was a perfect fit as well. Kingsley is a revered actor sensitive to social issues; just as Bagheera is respected in the jungle for his reason and guidance, but is also able to see when change is needed.
Johansson and Walken voice two more of the films villains, Kaa and King Louie, respectively. Disney fans will remember these two from the 1994 film because of Kaa’s sly tricks and Louie’s large-and-in-charge personality. Although they may be well remembered, these two characters had insignificant roles in the newer version.
We meet them both because they try to take advantage of the young Mowgli when he is alone in the jungle, but these characters left the film just as quickly as they came in. This is interesting, especially because both Kaa and Louie introduce the audience to very important plot points: Mowgli’s past and “man’s red flower”—what the animals call fire.
Perhaps this de-emphasis on Kaa and King Louie is to make room for a larger concentration on characters that were ignored in Disney’s previous adaption of Kipling’s stories, such as Raksha and Akela—leaders of the wolf pack that took Mowgli in as their own “man-cub.”
Many viewers love this departure from Disney’s first attempt at The Jungle Book because of its amazing computer animation and the dedication of the voice actors. But it seems as though the chief reason that the film is doing so well is because it’s for young and old audiences alike. Its message of embracing differences and finding a place to belong are timeless.