Unbelievable as it may seem, I’ve never read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The only version I knew was included in the Hal Leonard Piano/Vocal book that contained the six original (1966) scores of the songs for the Walt Disney movie.
The only human actor in the film is Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, an orphan-turned-man-cub, bare-chested and barefooted and wearing only an orange loincloth and a mop of matted hair. Raised in the jungles by a pack of wolves, a panther and a bear, he has to learn how to survive the jungle.
The film is otherwise populated with animals voices by a star-studded cast including Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf mother, Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the Panther, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the Tiger, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the Python and Christopher Walken as King Louie, the king of the monkeys.
The film was shot entirely on a blue screen soundstage in Los Angeles, so I was very impressed with Sethi, who had never acted before but got the part after an audition (involving thousands of children from the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Canada) when he was only ten years old. Everything was authentic – whether they were light-hearted moments or heavy, emotional scenes. I sure hope he will continue to act.
The visuals are absolutely the best I have ever seen; they are so good that each time an animal character appears, I’m mesmerised (except Kaa, when I had to shut my eyes because I’m terrified of snakes). I noticed there are well over a hundred names in the credits for Digital Artists alone! There are easily more than another hundred involved in various other departments: animation, visual effects, puppeteers, visual art, production design, photography, art department research, special effects, IT support, specialist set designers, graphic designers, digital images, editors, software research and development and so on.
I was a tad disappointed that the original Jungle Book theme song My Own Home was omitted here; so were The Elephant Song ‘Colonel Hathi’s March’ (whixh I love) and The Vulture Song ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. Still, the song ‘Bare Necessities’ appeared twice, ‘Trust In Me’ (The Python Song) was sung by Scarlett Johansson and ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ (The Monkey Song) was sung by Christopher Walken.