by Anabella Wewer
Elephants, panthers, bears, wolfs, the boy, the girl... They're all there, but with a twist - the boy meets the girl at the beginning of the movie. And there's people, lots of people, not just the boy and his animal friends.
The expected "Disney-remakes-the-animated-movie" plot is not what this latest release from Walt Disney Pictures is all about. In this live-action version of The Jungle Book, the folks at Disney have created a completely new plot based on Rudyard Kipling's compilation of stories from almost a century ago. This time around it's a love story and it has a very '90s environmentalist flavor.
During the first 20 minutes of the movie, most of the familiar characters and recognizable places from the animated movie are introduced; enough to get the audience comfortable with the new plot that is to come, and the children to stop asking "how come...". True to Disney's know-how, they managed to leave out the character that everyone loves to hate (and would have been a production nightmare), Kaa, without anyone really noticing.
We meet Mowgli as a young boy, the son of an Indian guide bringing a contingency of British officers and their families to their new post. While they travel, young Mowgli, a cute little boy of 5 or so played by Sean Naegeli, befriends Kitty, the daughter of Major Brydon (Sam Neill), played by Joanna Wolff, a cute little girl with dark curly hair and pinchable, rosy cheeks. While the children play and imitate the grown-ups in romantic gestures, the adults worry about the looming danger in the forest - Shere Khan, the tiger, has returned to their side of the jungle.
As is expected, the tiger attacks the camp, and through a series of events, Mowgli, holding on to his pet wolf, gets separated from the party, and thus begins his life in the jungle. A little more believable than in the animated movie, the boy meets a cub and a baby panther, and together they discover the secrets of the jungle as they grow.
Some years later, Kitty (Lena Headey) wanders off from a very proper group of British ladies and immerses herself in the jungle, just as Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) strolls around with his animal friends, all fully grown now. Life unexpectedly changes, as Mowgli is immediately attracted to the young lady, and she is mystified by the attractive young man that seems to master the most ferocious animals of the jungle.
Filmed mostly amid the dense jungles of India, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book brings to action a number of characters whose personalities almost, but not quite, make up for the fact that the animals can't speak. There's Captain Boone (Cary Elwes), a very evil, riches-hungry captain of the British army, who reminds us a little of the slithering Kaa (his coils too get tangled as he travels through the jungle) and who hopes to marry Kitty, and Dr. Plumford (John Cleese), doubling as a medical doctor and a teacher to Kitty and the other young ladies, has that definite nurturing tone we know Baloo to have.
The plot develops as Mowgli, who had previously found the city of treasures as he chased a monkey thief to King Louie's palace, leaves the jungle to follow Kitty. Action-packed scenes bring him to the British fort and into Kitty's bedroom, where she figures out that it is Mowgli, the boy lost in the jungle all those years before.
As Mowgli struggles with life in civilization and the opposing messages of the law of the land and man's law, the plot unfolds into a sometimes funny, sometimes scary, thrilling adventure where everyone must learn to respect the opposite's life style.
Though Jason Scott Lee plays a believable master of the animals and a most romantic suitor, he seems too comfortable with civilized men at the onset. Lena Headey is most definitely a proper British lady, but the strong-willed little girl she showed herself to be at the beginning of the movie makes her escapades through the jungle believable.
The animals are superbly trained, making their scenes very realistic. Baloo takes walks with Mowgli and Kitty through the jungle almost as a dog would in the city, and Shere Khan's face-to-face confrontation with Mowgli makes some sit at the edge of their chairs.
The beautiful scenery is the backdrop to thrilling and romantic scenes alike, though some special effects look, well, like special effects. The montages of people falling to rocky waterfalls look like montages, though the scenes in King Louis palace are much more believable. Though the movie was filmed in four separate locations in two different continents, the audience never feels anywhere else but at the heart of India. Beautiful jungle foliage against magnificent palaces and ruins make this one of those Disney classics, where the background is just as important as the characters, and as one would expect from Disney, they manage to keep the thrill and danger of the jungle, while leaving out the gory carnage that you know is there but never see.
Interesting enough for adults and awe-inspiring for kids, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book makes for an easy afternoon outting for family and friends.