My earliest memories of crying are not from days when I was subjected to parental rebuke as a kid. I was as such a no fuss child (that's what I've often been told). Rather I recall distinct images of me turning inconsolable when I missed my weekly dose of Mowgli and his lovable family of wolves, extending to the protective duo of Bagheera and Baloo. Power cuts or the TV going out of order were just a couple of reasons. If I missed the show the whole day felt wasted leaving within me a feeling of emptiness and loss. When I saw Jon Favreau's Jungle Book, I was once again excited like a twelve year old. Now that a couple of decades have flown by, in between the days of the Hindi dubbed animated show on Doordarshan and its Hollywood reimagination, I happily wonder as to what makes Kipling's masterpiece such an important part in the annals of storytelling and what is going to make the latest version of its cinematic adaptation a milestone among motion pictures. What's going to keep it immune to the rust of time. It's not only the fantastic CGI (in the new edition they have it a combo of CGI and Live Action - Photorealistic Rendering - using Motion Capture techniques) or the perfect animation or the awe inspiring background voices by phenomenal actors. What shall really always stand out about the Jungle Book are its inimitable story line and its relatable characters.
Mowgli is the perfect symbol of innocence and intelligence, always finding his way in the wild, always retaining his heart amidst the wilderness of the jungle, daring the dense forest, far away from any semblance of humanity. What has stayed with me is the kind of undiluted and abiding love depicted between the characters. Watching Mowgli I was invariably assured as a child of the goodness in the world, particularly when his family of animals stood by him against their sinister fellow forest dwellers. There's this scene where Mowgli's adoptive wolf mother tells him, as he sets out on a journey of self discovery, that no matter where he goes he will always remain her son. There is such tremendous depth in that utterance (fair credit must go for that to Lupita Nyongo for her voice). That is the kind of thing that stands out for me in the film. The essence of feelings and attachment that transcends species. The deeper connect we may sometimes find with ones who enjoy no tag of relation with us. And then discover the greatest experience of love, bonding and sacrifice with them. There are big lessons of life to be learnt from Kipling's characters given that we have the heart to see beyond their animated performances.
I have learnt that Neel Sethi won the casting chance for Mowgli after a massive hunt in auditions. He is impressive. The voices of Idris Elba (for Shere Khan) may have been more sinister. If I may take you back to the tone of the majestic Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia rendered by Liam Neeson, the choice was perfect because it conveyed the greatness and nobility of the character, which is not quite the case with Shere Khan. Elba, to me, never possessed that amount of ruthlessness which defined Shere Khan. But there couldn’t have been a better choice than Ben Kingsley to speak for Bagheera. Kaa is brought to life by the sensuous Scarlet Johansson; who else could have given voice to the seductive moodiness of the python. The action scenes are thrilling. I read somewhere that Fraveau wanted to shoot in real forest settings but he was convinced by the producers to take advantage of the present time technology in transporting the jungle to the screen without actually braving the wild. And it seems to have worked out too well for the makers.
I have a strong feeling that watching the 2016 edition of Jungle Book is going to be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Go watch it if you haven’t yet and return into the dreamy world of childhood we all once lived in.