Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
See also: http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart
My name: Brian Martin
Surviving an adaptation that has virtually nothing to do with Kipling's book and unsynched dialogue (I had only the YouTube version available), Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book comes out smiling. It's a pleasant and amusing adventure about a boy who is lost to his parents in the Indian jungle and is raised by wolves. Which sounds quite a lot like Kipling's Mowgli stories, but really isn't. Before being lost, 5-year-old Mowgli discovers that he has a strong connection with a little girl in the camp. Later, as adults, Mowgli and the girl, Kitty, meet again, and of course from that moment on, as the opening narration tells us, this becomes a love story. Albeit one with complications. Kitty is promised to another, a soldier under her father's command, and Mowgli possesses the location of a lost city filled with a treasure certain unsavory people want for their own. Love is never easy.
As in the book, Mowgli has animal friends: the wolves, naturally, Baloo the Bear, and Bagheera the Panther. He can communicate with them, too, though not in any language that could be written down. The movie -- thankfully -- gives their communication a more naturalistic turn, in which sound and movement and posture substitute for words. The book's other animals are modified to suit this very different story. Shere Khan, the tiger, for instance, isn't the lame eater of cattle Kipling described, but a fearsome presence in the depths of the jungle, the embodiment of wildness under control, the very law of the jungle itself.
And all of this is just fine because, again, the story is so different. It really gets going when Mowgli meets Kitty as an adult and follows her back to the town. He is captured by Kitty's jealous suitor and the people who want to find the lost city, but rescued by Kitty and a doctor friend (played wonderfully by John Cleese) who want to civilize him.
As Mowgli, Jason Scott Lee, while he overdoes the wide-eyed routine, is really quite good. Physically, despite the absence of any scars or blemishes on his body, he looks like a young man capable of surviving in the jungle. Temperamentally, he is both innocent and impulsive, yet altogether too knowing when he finds himself in competition with others (the boyfriend's jealousy, the treasure hunters' greed). Lena Headey is, if I may say so, a pretty Kitty who proves her worth not by fighting but by her good nature and sophistication.
Roger Ebert, in his review, noted the incongruity of Kipling's name in the title, but then went on to make you wonder if he was referring more to the Disney picture-book than Kipling's work, when he said, "The sweet innocence of Kipling's fables about a boy who learns to live among the animals is replaced here by an 'Indiana Jones' clone, an action thriller that Kipling would have viewed with astonishment." Having Mowgli's final actions toward Shere Khan referred to as "sweet innocence" is something I personally view with astonishment. But I agree that the worst aspect of the movie is the jungle city and its contrived defense mechanism.
This is a minor criticism, however. The Jungle Book is a good-hearted, entertaining movie. An enjoyable throwback of sorts: a children's story about adults.