Contrarian Thoughts on the Lion King (and the Jungle Book)

Is there anyone else in the whole world who liked the motion capture version of the Jungle Book more than they liked the motion capture version of the Lion King? Just me? Ok then.

There is nothing inherently doing a scene-by-scene remake of a beloved classic. None at all. But this is what happened in the immutable chaos of my brain.

The Jungle Book (animated) is a sweet, cute story that you can identify with at any stage. It is reminiscent of the Tom and Jerry era when the cutesiness of the characters makes you suspend disbelief so thoroughly that anything goes. You want it light, happy and fluffy. It delivers.

The Jungle Book (Motion Capture) is a very different beast and rightly so. Those who wondered why the Motion Capture version wasn’t being faithful to the ‘original’ movie didn’t seem to know that the animated version took great liberties with Kipling’s book too. I did not go past chapter 2 of Kipling’s book (bored) but I could see that the movie was only interested in the basic skeleton of the story and the characters.

The motion capture version of the Jungle Book is very ambiguous about who is right and who is wrong. Sher Khan is of the opinion that Men will be Men and Raksha (the SheWolf) is of the opinion that the man-cub is her pup and thereby a member of the wolf pack. Events do prove that Sher Khan has a good point when Mowgli uses fire without realizing exactly how powerful and unwieldy fire can get. While not exactly a morality tale, the story asks us humans to take a good look at how easily we corrupt nature because we don’t know what the hell we are doing.

Conversely, there is also the part that the wolves keep forbidding Mowgli from using the human part of his brain and it is his association with Baloo the bear that makes him realize that it completely ok to use his human creativity to find ingenuous answers to his everyday problems. These are his problems. The wolves don’t seem to realize that he does not have wolf-like tongue and can’t quench his thirst by lapping up water with a very human tongue and needs a cup instead which he fashioned with his human tool-making skills.

It was a story that borrowed sufficiently from the original version and kept reinventing itself and found a soul of its own. And nobody seemed to like it.

All the reviewers seem to see and say the same thing about the new Lion King. That it is technically competent but the expressiveness of the animated animals is lost in the motion capture as lions don’t have expressive faces. Ok. Yes. But is that all people saw in that movie?

I did not have a problem with the original Lion King. It was a simple tale of a son who wants to rise to his father’s eminence. First he doesn’t. Then he does. Simple enough.

I have seen the Broadway version and was enthralled with the whole stage and set up and creativity and musical expertise to be bothered about the actual core of the movie.

I suppose growing up does a certain something to you. After plenty of discussions around Nepotism and why sons should (or should not) automatically inherit their fathers’ territory in politics (or even the arts), I looked askance at the whole “A Prince is born and so it is his destiny” thing. I was never a fan of lines of successions. So Sarabi and Nala being unable to do anything other than sulk at Scar’s reign felt off. Even in real Lion Prides the males do throw their weight about and the lionesses can do nothing to stop that. But Nala who proudly claims that she is not a cub anymore and not afraid of Shenzi does not attempt attacking Shenzi until Simba himself turns up and declares himself king. All she originally did is sneak out of Pride Rock.

Also after so many discussions around caste, it is difficult to not see the hyenas as the oppressed caste and lions as the oppressive caste. The king is keen to keep his son out of trouble. But what about the hungry hyenas who live in the place that is not touched by the sun’s light? Is it not Mufasa’s territory at all? Why are they so hungry? Is it because the lions were forbidding the hyenas from hunting fertile areas? Is it ok to fault someone for being hungry when you are the reason they are hungry?

By the way, the Lion King redeemed itself with Timon and Pumbaa. The darlings. I love them.