Quick Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book
Music composed and conducted by John Debney
Music orchestrated by Kevin Kaska
Music recorded at Sony Scoring Stage
Music recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes
Original themes by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Terry Gilkyson
Album running time: 74 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Disney continues the new tradition of live action remakes of classic animated films, this time reviving 1967's The Jungle Book.  The original had a score by George Bruns, and songs by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman and Terry Gilkyson.  Not unlike the previous live-action remakes, this film doesn't stray too far from the source material at all.  Mainly, that includes the use of the 1967 songs and quotes from the original score. 

The first two tracks are updated versions of The Bare Necessities (sung over the end credits by Dr. John and The Nite Trippers) and Trust In Me (sung in the end credits by Kaa actress Scarlett Johansson).

The score begins with Main Titles (Jungle Run) featuring an amazing new arrangement of the Mark Mancina's Disney castle logo (possibly the first appearance on album).  It segues into a bit of the exotic flute solo from the opening of Bruns' original 1967 score.  It transitions to the jungle run section, with wild percussion and bamboo flutes.  The brass have some moments to shine as the string section swirls around.  Wolves/Law of the Jungle is the first to introduce Mowgli's Theme, a long phrased melody that represents Mowgli and his home growing up with the wolves.  It's a beautiful theme that that begins in the woodwinds that grows to eventually add choir.  

Water Truce has an ethereal opening before getting into a jaunty section followed by a nice brass moment and another reprise of Mogwli's Theme.  Rains Return continues the jungle atmosphere through percussion and woodwinds, with the choir adding in.  Mowgli's Leaving/Elephant Theme begins with a sorrowful section with strings and woodwinds passing a melodic idea around.  It transitions to another bold statement of Mowgli's Theme.  The music grows even stronger as the elephants march by Mowgli and Bagheera on their trek.  

Shere Khan Attacks/Stampede tears right into the orchestra, utilizing brass rips, jungle percussion patterns and bamboo flutes.  The action material works really well here.  Kaa/Baloo to the Rescue is immediately disconcerting with the shimmering strings.  The exotic flute sound of the Bruns score relays most of Kaa's material.  The melody to Trust in Me loops and adds menace before the low brass and low male choir enters.  Even in the darkest moments, the main theme is repeated on a solo flute.        

Honeycomb Climb is a bit more playful and adventurous, using the bassoon to represent some of Baloo's comic moments.  The Man Village, a somber track, gives us more woodwind solos and another reprise of the main theme.  A sense of danger looms over the start of Mowgli and the Pit, adding to the drama of Mowgli's journey.  Before long, a tender variation of The Bare Necessities emerges.  Monkeys Kidnap Mowgli returns to the pounding percussion heard earlier.  Horn calls and xylophone glissandos add a new orchestrated texture not heard earlier.

Arriving At King Louie's Temple is full of suspense, staying ominous throughout (there's a bit in the middle that's reminiscent of the Ark music in Raiders).  Twanging percussion among high pitched strings keep the mood in check.  Cold Lair Chase gets the jungle percussion, choir and brass moving in another strong action cue.  The melody of I Wanna Be Like You gets a handful of statements in some ingenious variations.  The action continues in The Red Flower with a charging string motif.  The low men's choir is extremely effective as the rhythm pounds away.  The melody of Trust In Me gets a choir variation (this time just used ominously and not related to Kaa).  

To The River continues some of the darker elements heard in previous tracks.  The pulse-pounding rhythm continues through as the string motif and men's choir returns.  The main theme gets a very brief reprise.  The drama continues in Shere Khan's War Theme with his motif used among thrilling brass and percussion.  The stakes continue to be heightened in Shere Khan and the Fire.  The entire orchestra brings their all with the ranges of each instrument being explored.  Near the end of the cue, Shere Khan and Mowgli's themes come head to head.  

Elephant Waterfall brings back the elephant theme heard earlier, as they bring peace back to the jungle.  It's back to the noble somber style for the main theme, and it makes for a touching moment.  In Mowgli Wins the Race, Debney uses the variation of Bare Necessities from the trailer (arranged by The Hit House).  It's a great moment that Debney added onto, and while the track is short, it's a highlight for most fans.  The Jungle Book Closes gives us reprises of the main themes in a big sweeping style as the film ends.

The album ends with two more songs that are used over the end credits - the updated version of I Wanna Be Like You (sung by Christopher Walken).  The new lyrics are from Richard Sherman, who sat in for a few sessions with Debney.  Then we get another version of The Bare Necessities (sung by Bill Murray and Kermit Ruffins).  

This is possibly John Debney's strongest film score in quite a while.  Having a deep connection to the creation of the original animated film, he seems to have brought all he could to the score.  With the marvelous CGI animated...well...everything but Mowgli, Debney brought a sense of realness to The Jungle Book.  We connect with the animated settings and characters because of Debney's work.  From the serene jungle to its fiercest creatures and scariest settings, the score enhances that.  It also makes the score tell a complete story on the album - the full arc of our main character is explored.  

I have to also give large credit for blending the musical worlds of 1967 The Jungle Book and a 2016 listening experience. The way he incorporated the music by George Bruns worked well, and served almost as a guidepost and wink to those that knew what came before. The songs used in the film were a bit distracting from the largely serious tone, but of course I understand why director Jon Favreau had to use them.  Still, it's Debney's strong score that carries much of the film.  It has a little bit of something for everyone and worth tons of listens.      

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