May 7th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Safe Schools: Sorry, chef, but the entire sex-ed menu's off!

CANBERRA OBSERVED Mild unpopularity of Libs preferable to ALP slogans

EDITORIAL Turnbull's stuttering election gambit

ENERGY Media shows no interest in Shorten's renewables plan

LEGISLATION Viability bill at least a baby step for the babies

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Intifada of the Knife: Israel's unknown war

FAMILY AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Gender symmetry: women can be as abusive as men

ECONOMICS AND POLITICS Overhauling Australia will require more than a tinker

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Media gush over study only to find same-sex parents more irritable

RESEARCH The scientific objectivity of gender difference (Part One of two parts)

CINEMA Mowgli takes on the lore: The Jungle Book

BOOK REVIEW A sliver of hope

BOOK REVIEW A primer on Western civilisation

BOOK REVIEW Of ships and shots

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CINEMA
Mowgli takes on the lore: The Jungle Book


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, May 7, 2016

What is perhaps the most incredible part of The Jungle Book is to be found at the end of the credits: filmed in Downtown Los Angeles.



The entire film was crafted in photorealistic 3D CGI. The trees, the grassland, the rivers, the animals, the weather – all of it was fashioned by a vast team of creative professionals working out of a studio warehouse, under the keen eye of director Jon Favreau. The only thing on screen that is real is Mowgli (Neel Sethi), as well as some glimpses of other humans.

But this adaptation of The Jungle Book is not just a technical marvel. It is a superb example of cinematic craftsmanship and rich, intelligent, family-friendly storytelling, drawing on both Rudyard Kipling’s classic collection of stories and the 1967 animated classic.

Unlike the cartoon, which was more of a loosely connected series of comic and musical scenes, this movie has a much tighter dramatic structure. Certain songs from the cartoon are, however, present, and they give the movie a nostalgia and whimsy that balances out its more intense aspects. This is especially so with Bare Necessities, which becomes a musical theme of sorts throughout the film.

The voice acting is superb and well cast. Ben Kingsley voices the noble and wise black panther Bagheera, giving him a British army tone, while Idris Elba follows in George Sanders’ rich baritone voice-steps as Shere Khan, portraying the Bengal tiger as menacing, powerful and cruel, with a refined and imperial edge. Scarlett Johansson’s take on the disturbing and massive python Kaa is hypnotic and sultry, as if the snake were a serial-killer femme fatale. Bill Murray, as the lounging and good-natured sloth bear Baloo, pretty much plays himself, but as a bear. Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o voice Mowgli’s wolf-pack parents, Akela and Raksha, giving them the dignity and discipline that befits not just parents, but pack leaders.

And then there’s Christopher Walken, seemingly channeling Marlon Brando’s Kurtz from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, as the demented and dangerous leader of the monkeys, King Louie, a giant orang-outang, or gigantopithecus, who wants complete control of the jungle. On top of this are the numerous character actors playing minor roles with evident joy and adding vim to the proceedings.

Mowgli was found in the jungle by Bagheera and raised by the wolf pack as one of their own. With the coming of the dry season, a water truce is called so that all animals may drink from the one remaining watering hole without fear of being eaten. Among them comes the man-hating Shere Khan – accompanied by a cawing colony of vultures – who, on discovering Mowgli, promises to kill him and anyone who stands in his way.

It is decided that it is best for everyone if Mowgli leaves, and he sets out with Bagheera for the nearest man village. But Shere Khan tracks them and, in holding him off, Bagheera is separated from Mowgli, leaving him to make his way through the jungle alone.

In its depths Mowgli comes across Kaa, who, while telling him of how he came to the jungle, “suggests” he stay with her – forever. He finally ends up with the loveable Baloo, who wants Mowgli’s help to collect honey. All the while Shere Khan is making his presence brutally felt among the wolves, believing it will bring Mowgli back.

Mowgli is an outsider, a man-cub in a man-less jungle, raised by wolves, taught by a panther, knowing the law and lore of the animals, but little of the ways of man. He has tried to be a wolf, but he is not a wolf. He has no claws, his teeth are not weapons, his skin is exposed – he may be tougher and more agile than a normal child, but he is still slight and physically disadvantaged against the beasts. He has his “tricks” – his innate ability to make and use tools – but as a “wolf”, he is not supposed to use them.

The story of Mowgli is the story of a man-cub growing to become a man. Key to this is that Mowgli, and his protectors, come to terms with the fact that he is a man and not a wolf. He learns to be himself, without going against the world around him, to integrate his ingenuity and uniqueness into a way of life that has no time for fantasies of mistaken identity.

To pretend to be what he is not would mean his death. At the same time, to ignore the objective reality of his circumstances would also mean death. He cannot change who he is, but nor can he change the world around him to suit himself. He must reconcile the two, and in so doing, learn to be a man.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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