Friday, April 15, 2016

The Jungle Book - A Liberal Reimagining of a Classic Tale (SPOILERS)

Once again, spoilers, for a story from 1894.

The Jungle Book is first and foremost a coming of age tale, but more importantly, a coming out tale about a man cub who discovers the power of his true self. Jon Favreau has masterfully recreated the Jungle Book with this modern paradigm. It follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy adopted by a pack of wolves after being orphaned by the malevolent tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Mowgli must leave his adopted family in pursuit of safety when, along his journey, he meets Baloo (Bill Murray), who encourages him to embrace his unique abilities as a member of the tribe of man.

At its most forward face, The Jungle Book makes for an exciting family tale with a moral for all ages. Underneath the surface, however, it's about a boy liberalized by a hippy bear who teaches him it's okay to reject his conservative upbringing, and it's in this regard that the movie truly succeeds. Yes, the movie is astonishing to look at (more on that later), but it's, in this reviewer's opinion, significantly more astonishing at the moral level.

Throughout his adopted life, Mowgli is taught by the wolves not to use his “tricks”, which are his unique ways of surviving as compared to the wolf way. He's able to build and create and use tools to his advantage, which a wolf, as he was raised, is not able to. Upon meeting Baloo the Bear, whose motives are anything except ulterior, he unintentionally teaches Mowgli the valuable lesson of self-acceptance. We get to see Mowgli evolve into a member of jungle society by not only accepting himself as man, but as animal too.

There's a moment toward the end of the movie that very cleverly compresses the advance in social equality in the past 30 years into a matter of about a minute. Mowgli uses the most coveted and feared tool of man: the Red Flower (fire) to defeat Shere Khan, and in doing so, risks his relationships with all of jungle-kind. It is in this regard that Mowgli is “coming out”. At first, his loved ones reject him, but when they find themselves on the same side as the intolerant and twisted mind of Shere Khan, they stand with Mowgli again. Rejection, questioning, acceptance. The 1900s, the 00s, the 20-teens.

If there's any one thing I can say about this movie, it's that you should absolutely go see it in 3D. This reviewer is by no means a fan of 3D, but I couldn't imagine it any other way. The movie is shot less like a classic film, and more like a documentary, which, with the 3D, adds to the almost IMAX-like National Geographic feel, and really feels immersive. I wish I saw it on a bigger screen, and more than likely will see it in IMAX when I get the chance.

There are those that will say that, much like the new Disney retellings of Cinderella and (to a lesser extent) Maleficent, that the Jungle Book is another unnecessary live action adaptation of a story that everybody with a childhood knows. However, this is absolutely a movie that you have to see to believe. It's breathtaking, and heart-warming, and the visceral experience that cinema was designed for. There is something for everybody with this movie.

David Harding is a movie and comic book enthusiast and occasional contributor to the Getting Off Topic Podcast

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