The Jungle Book: The Oddest of All Species

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I went into The Jungle Book tonight with pretty low expectations—mostly just to enjoy my popcorn and the soda I’ve been craving all week. But with delightfully re-imagined characters, a triumphant score infused with motifs and nods to the original animated movie’s music, and spectacular CG scenery and creatures, The Jungle Book took me back to the sunny afternoon when I first watched the original Disney animated film when I was four.

Particularly, I enjoyed the organic themes throughout this movie and was pleased to find it lacking the cloying “agenda” that I initially feared it might promote. Rather than promoting humanity’s supremacy over nature or over-emphasizing nature’s preeminence or even giving a sentimental interpretation of Kipling’s beloved tale, this version of the movie encouraged respect for nature, an acceptance of our unique qualities as humans, and the necessity to use these differences responsibly.

Throughout the movie, the wolf pack and Mowgli quote the Law of the Jungle (a phrase which has come to mean “every man for himself” but in Kipling’s story means the complete opposite.)

           “NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,

           And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

           As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;

           For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

King Louis tells Mowgli that it is fire that sets man apart from the animals. But he missed the larger point. Akela and Bagheera scold Mowgli throughout the movie when he uses his “human tools and tricks,” (such as using a cup to drink water); however time and again, it is the man-cub’s ingenuity that saves the day (i.e. feeding Baloo’s sweet tooth by harvesting honey comb from atop a cliff, and rescuing a baby elephant from a pit).

Fire is one of man’s tools, for sure—one that all in the jungle fear. But in the end, it’s fire that saves the day because of Mowgli’s decision to use it to defeat Shere Khan. It was Mowgli’s choice to use his differentiation for the benefit of more than himself. And it’s a good lesson to us all—to respect and realize our place among nature which, quite frankly, outnumbers us and has us thoroughly surrounded. In return, we’re bestowed with nature’s bountiful benefits—resources, food, labor, pleasure, friendship, and the opportunity for us to exercise humanity in it’s truest sense. In other words, nature lends us the bare necessities.

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I’m thankful that from Mabillda the duck to Shere Khan the tiger, God has allowed us to live on the same planet as these magnificent creatures.

This Atlantic article gives a more detailed and graceful review of The Jungle Book.

“The Jungle Book [is] perhaps the oddest of all species: a movie nearly devoid of human beings, yet one bursting with humanity.”

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