'The Jungle Book' Narrator Is Uniquely Qualified For The Role
If you can't afford a vacation to an exotic locale this spring, then The Jungle Book might be a decent substitute. And even if you could make it to the beautiful jungles of India anytime soon, I can guarantee with 99% certainty that the animals wouldn't even be able to talk. They do, of course, in the new CGI/live-action reboot of Disney's 1967 animated classic. The voice cast that orbits around newcomer Neel Sethi is both diverse and high-profile, including Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, and Giancarlo Esposito, among others. Every Book needs a wise and authoritative narrator, and this one is no different. The Jungle Book is narrated by Ben Kingsley, in character as Bagheera the black panther, Mowgli's guide and protector.
Bagheera is a fitting storyteller, since it's the panther who finds the lost man-cub and brings him to Raksha, Aklea, and the rest of the wolf pack. When Mowgli is forced to leave his adoptive family and journey to human civilization, Bagheera accompanies him. So the animal is a perfect character to narrate The Jungle Book, and the actor who plays him is equally qualified. Ben Kingsley has had an awe-inspiring career in theater, television, and film, but the character brings some especially appropriate skills and experience to this particular part. They are:
Ben Kingsley's mother was British and his father is of Gujarati Indian descent. Kingsley — a successful stage actor in England — broke out in film when he played Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi in the 1982 Oscar-winning film, Gandhi. Like Kingsley's father, Gandhi was also Gurajarti. The Jungle Book is based on author Rudyard Kipling's collected stories, some inspired by his childhood home and then adult return to India.
He's Played Several Literary Characters
From Fagin in Oliver Twist to the Man In The Yellow Suit in Tuck Everlasting, the 73-year-old actor is old-hat at bringing book characters to live. He's also played roles in adaptations of Crime & Punishment, Alice In Wonderland, and House Of Sand And Fog, meaning that he'd probably have had a better grasp at your high school summer reading list than you did.
He's A Ridiculously Decorated Actor
Kingsley's performance as Trevor Slattery in Iron Man 3 was sadly ignored by the Academy, but no matter. The actor already has an Oscar, a BAFTA, and two Golden Globes for Gandhi. (Did you know the Hollywood Foreign Press used to give out a New Star Of The Year award?) He's been nominated for an Academy Award on three other occasions, for Bugsy, Sexy Beast, and House Of Sand And Fog. The actor was also awarded a Grammy — not for Best Rap Collaboration, but for a spoken word album of Gandhi's speeches. In a nutshell, he can probably handle whatever you could throw at him.
On top of all of those credentials, Ben Kingsley is a Sir. The actor was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 for his artistic accomplishments. I think that makes him officially over-qualified for the job of The Jungle Book narrator, but I'm glad he took it just the same.
Image: Walt Disney Studios