Jungle Book: a visual delight, but will it help the tigers?

The latest reimagining of Disney’s 1967 animated film, based on the well-known book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, is a visual delight. Mowgli is played by “real” actor, Neel Sithi, while his jungle animal friends are animated and voiced by the likes of Scarlett Johannson (Kaa), Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan) and Christopher Walken (King Louie). I watched The Jungle Book in 3D and the film will also release in IMAX which I think will be spectacular.

The story opens with Mowgli confirming his loyalty to the wolf pack, his substitute family since he was snatched as a baby from the man village years before by Shere Khan, the feared tiger ruler. Things quickly change, however, when Khan vows to kill Mowgli. Mowgli’s friends attempt to sneak him out of the jungle and back to the man village where they believe he will be safe. But Mowgli is delayed and he encounters a variety of characters along his journey to self-realisation. From friend (Bagheera) to foe (Kaa), to reprobate (Baloo), to enemies (Shere Kahn) and King Louie, everyone it seems wants a piece of Mowgli. This sentiment is clearly seen in King Louie’s song I Wan’na be Like You, sung splendidly by Walken. The animals’ desires are tantamount to worship and clearly pit human Mowgli against tiger Shere Khan, with Mowgli the clear winner.

Of course this element of the story highlights the real world vilification of tigers, an attitude which has certainly not helped this endangered species. A recent count of “wild tigers roaming forests from Russia to Vietnam has”, encouragingly though, “gone up for the first time in more than a century” (Katy Daigle, www.twitter.com). Leonardo Di Caprio recently tweeted “Tigers are some of the most vital and beloved animals on Earth. I am so proud that our collective efforts have begun to make progress toward our goal, but there is still so much to be done.” I wonder what he and other conservationists will make of the release of The Jungle Book at this critical time.

The Jungle Book opens at Ster Kinekor theatres countrywide in South Africa on Friday 15 April 2016.

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