Can Humans Live with Animals? : Jungle Book Reinvented


There is a reason certain works get the label “classic,” and every now and then we see a re-telling of the story that reminds us of the power of its world. Disney’s most recent version of Jungle Book falls into this category, almost like a radical new performance of a Shakespeare play. Yes, we still have Mowgli and talking animals and the songs from the classic animated film, but now we have more emphasis on the jungle world and the animals that live there, tying us back to the images and themes Kipling originally gave to us.

Obviously, this is also a showcase film; we stare in awe at the technical achievement of these computer animators, easily giving in to the “illusion of life,” believing in the wolves, the tiger, the panther, the bear, the monkeys, the elephants,…. But the animators have also made the “animals” behave more like counterparts in our world. Much research has gone into studying animal mannerisms and behavior as well as appearance. I could quibble over some minor points (like Louis’ size), but I would rather encourage you to go see it. Disney again has set a high standard, and I hope it contributes again to the importance of preserving such environments on our planet.

What drives the film is the antagonism of Shere Khan and his concern that Mowgli, a man cub, does not belong in the jungle. The animators palpably drive home Shere Khan’s size; he is able to kill a wolf in one bite. But he obsessively pursues Mowgli because he sees him as a threat, and when the boy shows up in the final moments of the film with a torch, having inadvertently set the jungle trees on fire, all the animals doubt Mowgli’s loyalty as Shere Khan says, “I told you so.” And even though we’ve seen Mowgli interact with his wolf pack, Bagheera, and Baloo, we viewers wonder too–how much have we blindly hurt our own planet.

It would be nice if we could have a herd of elephants (the only animals in the film that do not talk–the other animals give them divine status) cover up our own mistakes as they do at the end of this film to help Mowgli. Yet not everything is smoothed over, Mowgli still has a confrontation with Shere Khan, who is unrelenting to his end. There are conflicts we may not be able to work out in our own relationships with the animals on this planet, but we can, at least, work toward cleaning up the messes we have made. Ultimately, Jungle Book is a though-provoking film as well as a technological achievement. I highly recommend it.

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