by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
This is an important film. The producers surely do stand on the shoulders of ancestors. Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 “Jungle Book” is a well-known classic of children’s literature. He was the first English recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1907) and the youngest at age 41.
Fast forward to 1967, one year after Walt Disney’s death and the last animated feature personally overseen by Disney, “The Jungle Book,” was released. He exercised his artistic license of Kipling’s work but held to the fantasy and magic.
Even though the details of Kipling’s tales of Mowgli and his jungle counterparts haven’t been depicted verbatim, either by Disney or Jon Favreau’s latest adaptation, the essence of Kipling appears on screen with all the nuances of a life imagined that spans time and captures hearts of those who see it.
This is a fantastic film. It’s to be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
It’s not just the stunning combination of live action and computer generated imagery (CGI). The story is beyond belief. Kind of like the story of Jesus. Disney brings CGI technology into a whole new dimension. You sometimes have to remind yourself there’s only one live actor here. Stunning doesn’t adequately describe what you’re watching.
That one live actor is Neel Sethi, playing Mowgli, in his first major film. All the other characters are CGI animals powered by the voices of Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o and more. Murray and Walken even sing – so be warned.
“The Jungle Book” is the story of an infant boy saved by a black panther and raised by wolves. He travels and speaks freely with most of the animals in the jungle. When he uses reason to draw water or make a simple pulley with vines and branches his animal family calls them “tricks.”
In addition to the pure magic of this film, many biblical images came to mind. Kaa, a huge snake (the voice of Johansson) tries to woo Mowgli as she slowly coils around him. We recall Eden as predators and the “preyed upon” drink together from the same pool at the “peace rock.”
That peaceful scene brings Isaiah’s words to mind: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Parables require imagination in the author and the listener. When Kipling received the Nobel Prize, the citation from the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy said: “…even the most cursory observer sees immediately his absolutely unique power of observation, capable of reproducing with astounding accuracy the minutest detail from real life. However, the gift of observation alone, be it ever so closely true to nature, would not suffice as a qualification in this instance. There is something else by which his poetical gifts are revealed. His marvelous power of imagination enables him to give us not only copies from nature but also visions out of his own inner consciousness.”
The genuine and brief lines of the hymn, “Recessional,” composed by Kipling on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 are striking in their expression of his humble feelings:
“The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and Kings depart:
Still stand Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and contrite heart.”
We believe you’ll be surprised and enchanted by this film. It may touch your heart with remembered childhood awe and provide you with renewed thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels