The Red Flower: A Review of The Jungle Book

Andrew LuAugust 24, 2017ResilienceMedia

“I wanna be like you-oo-oo! I wanna walk like you, talk like you too-oo-oo! You’ll see it’s true-oo-oo, someone like me-ee-ee, can learn to be someone like you-oo-oo!”

I find myself humming the jazzy tunes of King Louie, a gigantic orangutan, months after the release of Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book in 2016. Combining state-of-the-art digital animation and old-fashioned storytelling, Disney explores humanity’s eternal conflicts and ties with nature through this glorious remake of Rudyard Kipling’s tales of the jungle.

The story follows the journey of Mowgli, a human child brought up by a pack of wolves in an Indian jungle, as he ventures into the unknown to protect himself and his pack from the attack of a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Mowgli leaves his wolf mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and his pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) to embark upon a journey of self-discovery and development with his mentor, the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). On this journey, he meets new animals in the jungle: the python mesmerist Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the warm and fuzzy bear Baloo (Bill Murray), and the singing gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken).

As you have probably noticed, all but one of the characters in this movie are animals. Therefore, casting posed a bit of a predicament. The character of Mowgli is the only live action human character who appears on screen. All of the other actors and actresses provide voices for CGI-rendered animals. Director Jon Favreau introduces Neel Sethi as the 10-year-old boy who plays the most important role. Favreau and casting director Sarah Finn chose Sethi from over a thousand child actors around the world and entrusted him with the job of holding up much of the weight of the movie. Sethi definitely did not let the filmmakers down. He fits the character description of Mowgli well, and his outstanding acting, combined with the hyperreal animation, provides the audience with a world that is not only realistic, but breathtakingly beautiful.

Renowned celebrities Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, and Ben Kingsley also did amazingly with their powerful voices, contributing to the overall effect of the film. The actors’ performances were remarkable because they fit their roles so well. Johansson fit the tempting seductress role of Kaa from the past experiences she has had as an actress. Kingsley’s deep and powerful voice was a perfect match for the wise and elderly Bagheera. Murray’s comedic personality was also paired well with the comical character Baloo.

These characters are not exclusive to the 2016 version of The Jungle Book. Another astounding aspect of the movie is its many remakes throughout history. In 1967, Walt Disney Studios created an animated musical based on a collection of short stories by English author Rudyard Kipling, which teach moral lessons through anthropomorphism. However, Walt Disney was not content with the dark and sinister mood of Kipling’s book and chose to employ a more cheerful and positive screenplay in the 1967 film’s production.

In the 2016 remake, the movie loses many of its musical numbers and features a different ending in order to follow the theme of Kipling’s original writings more closely. While Disney focused on the differences between humans and animals, the new version of the film celebrates the idea of humans and nature existing together as one. These artistic choices show how much society has changed in the past fifty years; ideas that weren’t conceivable in the 1960s have become the status quo of the 21st century.

As human society has evolved to become more open-minded and aware about the environment, our film and animation techniques have evolved as well. The Jungle Book has received tremendous international recognition and acclaim in large part because of its unprecedented success in animation and cinematography. I’ve never seen digital rendering look more strikingly realistic. All the fur on the wolves, every leaf stem, and each teeny-tiny beehive hexagon can be seen in amazing detail. This movie does not look like animation or a cartoon, it looks like reality. The 684 visual and special effects editors left out no details and polished everything to perfection. Every scene displays the extensive research they did to create each plant or animal and put together a hauntingly beautiful world that truly comes to life for the viewer.

The fabulous music, costumes, makeup, and sound effects brilliantly connect each scene of the movie and add to this hyper reality that makes the film so memorable. The screenplay, written by Justin Marks, balances the story of Disney’s animated adaption and Kipling’s original works to develop a plot that is funny, exciting, and sometimes melancholic. This movie will have you reaching for the tissues one minute and clutching your stomach from laughter the next. To further the dramatic effect of the movie, John Debney composed and conducted a charming musical score. Taking inspiration from the original Disney soundtrack, Debney’s score definitely captures the attention of viewers’ ears.

The overarching theme of The Jungle Book is unity between humanity and nature. As technology becomes more and more advanced, humans have begun to not only lose touch with our natural roots, but to destroy them. Deforestation, forest fires, over consumption, poaching — these are a few of many human-caused catastrophes destroying animal habitats and endangering precious wildlife. The Jungle Book tells us that we are breaking the balance between nature and humanity, and shows us the consequences. The “red flower” (fire) that obliterates half of the jungle symbolizes the power of destruction humans hold. The animals fear humans, they fear the “red flower,” they fear us because we will stop at nothing to urbanize, industrialize, and make money.

It is this greed and selfishness that The Jungle Book warns us against. The movie makes us think, “Is it time to stop exploiting mother earth?” Is it time to go back to the nature? Is it time to put out the “red flower” that fuels our innate desire for growth and development? On this mission to save planet Earth, the human race must be resilient in order to succeed. We are bound to encounter many obstacles along the way of this ecologic revolution, whether global warming, oil spills, or habitat loss, but we must never give up the fight for our planet. As individuals, we must each fight and stand back up if we’re beaten down. As a community, we must rise and fall together, never surrendering, always coming back stronger. As long as we have resilience, I believe that we will always be triumphant in the end.

Ultimately, The Jungle Book is a truly enchanting piece of art that makes an impression on all of its viewers. It teaches several lessons through its theme and makes us think about our choices. This film definitely deserves five out of five stars, and I recommend it for everyone who likes a good old Disney-style story with fantastic visual effects.

Andrew Lu is from Beijing, China. He is 14 years old and a freshman at the International School of Beijing. He enjoys theater, music, reading, and writing.