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Soundtrack review: The jungle book (John Debney – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The jungle book (John Debney – 2016)


“The Jungle Book” is a 2016 American fantasy adventure film directed by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Marks, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works, the film is a live-action/CGI reimagining of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film of the same name. The film stars and introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and features the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken. Set in the remote jungle of India, the film tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening Shere Khan.

How wonderful it is to see a reimagining of one of my favorite Disney movies as a child. I remember every single second from the movie; I must have seen it a hundred times. I will watch it again, soon, when my little girl will be old enough to enjoy it. I can’t wait to see it and remember the childhood moments. Nostalgia is high with this one and I especially couldn’t wait to hear the music. A lot of the joy of experiencing the original “Jungle book” cartoon came from the music; the songs by The Sherman Brothers were infectious and charming and have been all time favorites of a lot of people for almost 50 years. John Debney wrote the score for the new movie and I couldn’t be happier with the choice. I will definitely go see the movie but the impatience to hear the score got the best of me and I’m writing about it before. I’m sure it will be splendid in context.

Some scores start with the feeling of a beautiful morning when you know from the first few minutes that the day that follows will be one to remember forever. Something in the way the sun is shining, or the sea looks or your family smiles and you feel a tremble of joy and gratitude in your heart. Even comparing the opening of “The jungle book” to these feelings is an understatement. Every now and then John Debney writes a score so beautiful and emotional that shatters me. He can do action, horror or epic with the best of them as he’s one of the most versatile composers out there but I think his true strength and his true soul lies in emotional music. Just like he did earlier this year with “The young Messiah”, he just takes the softest and most colorful of brushes and paints an idyllic image I won’t be able to take my eyes of.

My heart sinks and I get misty eyed when I hear a cue like “Mowgli leaving elephants”. Film music very often affects me in one way or another but this goes to a whole new level. I feel John Debney’s creation deep in my heart and I almost find it hard to believe that it’s a new score I’m listening to and not a John Barry classic romantic masterpiece. I want to take my loved ones and live in the bliss of those first few cues.

Then Shere Khan appears and ruins the paradise. The music changes tone and tribal percussion replaces the sweeping melodies from before. Now that the composer made me care for the characters I also feel the danger and worry. The jungle musical inserts are as natural and intense as I’ve only heard in Jerry Goldsmith’s “The ghost and the darkness” before. There’s nothing forced or artificial in this score; the music feel organic and natural and has the perfect balance between adventurous, mysterious and tender. There’s a touch of epic when needed or a soft and deep choir to punctuate other moments as the score mirrors the jungle it was written for: colorful, dense and beautiful. It’s also written like a musical story and I get the same pleasure listening to it as I would get reading a captivating book.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, just sample “Elephants rebuild the jungle”. This is one of the most beautiful and emotional themes John Debney has written and will be on the shortlist for cue of the year 2016. It’s only the tip of a fantastic score which I am grateful to be able to listen to.  Complete with reinterpretations of the songs that marked our childhood, with nods to the original theme by George Bruns right in the opening cue blended with the Disney logo and with clever little anchors to the past in the form of instrumental motifs from those songs we love sprinkled in a couple of cues, “The Jungle book” reminds me once again why I love film music so much. Thank you, John Debney for creating such a splendid memory, for feeding my nostalgia and for creating a natural bridge that stretches for 50 years.

Cue rating: 98 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 66 / 74

Album excellence: 89%


Logo Title Jungle Run 2

Wolves Law Of The Jungle

Water Truce 2

The Rains Return

Mowgli Leaving Elephants

Shere Khan Attacks Stampede

Baloo To The Rescue

The Man Village

Mowgli Saves Baby Elephant

Monkeys Kidnap Mowgli

Cold Lair Chase

Mowgli Takes Red Flower

To The River

Shere Khan Fights Everyone

The End Of Shere Khan

Elephants Rebuild The Jungle

The Jungle Book Closes

Mowgli Wins The Race

Trust In Me

Bare Necessities

I Wanna Be Like You

Bare Necessities



Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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