The Jungle Book (1994) – Review

2 Stars

If you look with keen eyes, then one can see the imprint of future blockbuster The Mummy in director Stephen Sommers’ The Jungle Book. A film with only the most vague resemblance to the Kipling story or Disney cartoon. This live-action feature is more concerned with adventure and treasures, more in the vein of Tarzan and Indiana Jones. All the ingredients that would propel The Mummy series to global recognition are attempted here, but none gel as cohesive. Perhaps, that is because the movie seems to be having a constant battle of tone and identity. Is this a family movie for kids? or a rip-snorting adventure for teens and adults? The Jungle Book tries to have it both ways and ends up a mixed bag, with some delights but more often dullness.

Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) is lost in the jungle as a child and raised by the wild animals that populate the dangerous environment. All he has of his ties to civilization is a bracelet given to him by Kitty (Lena Headey), the daughter of Major Brydon (Sam Neil). Left alone for over a decade, Mowgli is discovered on an expedition and is sent back to live with the rich English family living in the palaces of India. As the jungle-boy re-enters society, he quickly learns english, etiquette, and other traits of a civilized gentleman.

Yet, all is not well for Mowgli, he faces opposition from a corrupt Captain Boone (Cary Elwes) who wants the affection of Kitty and the location of the Jungle’s hidden riches. Boone learns of buried treasure in the mythical Monkey City, a location only Mowgli can find. So the villainous Captain schemes a plan into action that will result in Mowgli’s death and undreamed of fortunes for the officer. Aided by his animal pals Baloo, Bagheera and Grey Brother, Mowgli must survive to rescue Kitty and keep the laws of he jungle unbroken.

The Jungle Book has a fine cast, that is spearheaded by the incomparable Jason Scott Lee. Here is an actor that delivers every time on-screen. Yet, his low number of films made is truly baffling. With a gymnasts grace, Lee handles the action sequences and his delicate facial features punctuate the inner desire for Kitty and the wild-man’s apprehension for civilized society rituals. At 111 minutes the movie runs on for too long, something Sommers would battle for the rest of his career. Young children are sure to be fascinated by the first act, but the second act will be too slow and mature for them, while the last act is too violent for a PG rating. The Walt Disney logo probably secured the rating, before the movie was ever screened for the board. The Jungle Book is interesting as a precursor to The Mummy, it’s a cinematic experiment that doesn’t fully succeed, but as a portrait of a blockbuster helmer growing it has a certain curio value.

Director: Stephen Sommers
Stars: Jason Scott Lee, Lena Headey, Sam Neil, Cary Elwes, John Cleese

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