Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani can rest easy. This version of The Jungle Book really isn’t a kids movie but it’s a movie that every adult probably ought to see. They’d end up loving it just as much as their squealing kids. And if they can, they should take their mommies and daddies along, because they may just remember having read Kipling’s timeless classic. Or caught the animated adventures of Mowgli and company on a VHS tape. Yes, it did come out thaaaaat long ago.
Rebooted and brought to life by the director Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book is a masterpiece in motion. The sheer production values are spellbinding, as the jungles and animals are brought alive with visual effects and motion capture tech that can only make the term ‘cutting edge’ look like a butter knife. So rich is the colour, so detailed the jungles and realistic the animals and their varied emotions that it is easy to forget you’re in a theatre looking at magic on a movie screen. Until the 3D glasses start making your nose itch.
The story is simple and prac tically the same — Mowgli, a baby orphaned by a tiger called Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), is raised by the wolves and is one with the jungle, until Khan returns and wants his pound of flesh.
Okay, maybe more than a pound maybe, but loincloth or no loincloth, Indian American actor Neel Sethi is the right amount of skinny for the role. Aided by Baloo, the bear (the inimitably funny voice of Bill Murray) and Bagheera, the black panther (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli’s adventures in the wild and his encounters with Ka, the python and the suave Orangutan King Louie, are the stuff of legend.
Three cheers to Sethi though, for breathing life into Mowgli with amazing poise and mature variation in emotions — especially when you consider he probably had no co-stars to look at during the length of their production. Sure, there may have been a few hundred technicians hiding under the graphically-rendered bushes, but it must have been awful and lonely shooting with machine models that look more like a half-blasted terminator than a bear or a panther.
Beyond the story and the stellar cinematic value the movie brings to the screen, Jon Favreau has managed something that most filmmakers would consider impossible. He has delivered a product that would make the purists sigh and perhaps even relapse into a wee spell of nostalgia.
Broadly different from Kipling’s original telling, Favreau has ensured that the story is mature, the dialogues are contemporary, the humour is typically American and the appeal, enduringly ageless. How often do we watch a movie where you sigh and smile at the same time as the six-year-old in the seat next to you? That’s universal appeal for you. It’s so good that it helps you forgive him for letting Bill Murray introduce Baloo the bear as (bear with me here) something that sounds like ‘Bluu’. And when he let the tribe of monkeys (eminently named Bandar Log by Kipling) sound something like Bandurrlowg.
Reaching back to Nihalani’s fear that some of the attack scenes in the film would terrify kids, it is true that the realism in the fight scenes is terrific. But it’s not terrifying. Trust me, the six-year-old in the seat next to mine lit up like a kid who’s been handed a toy pistol during Diwali when those scenes played out.
So if you’re looking for a fantastic movie that literally everybody can watch without complaining or falling asleep, this may be your last chance this decade. Unless they decide to make a sequel. Or rope him in for the next Avengers movie. Clearly making over $500 million is what qualifies you for a slot these days.