Disney's live action retelling of The Jungle Book is based as much on the 1967 musical classic as it is on the Rudyard Kipling tales. With that in mind, the film features new versions of classics like "The Bear Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You." All of this is on top of a score by Disney fan John Debney that not only pays homage to the animated film, but also stands on its own with beautiful new melodies.
The soundtrack to The Jungle Book is bookended by these classic songs. First is the end credit cover of "The Bear Necessities" by New Orleans legend Dr. John, which ties this film back to the jazz roots of the animated version (Disney fans should also note that he did the end credit cover of "Cruella De Vil" for the live action version of 101 Dalmatians). Next is a song found in the film and score in melody only, "Trust in Me" by Scarlett Johansson. This new retelling made it hard for the snake to sing the song on screen and keep the story moving, but Johansson's singing voice is so beautiful that this is a lovely bonus to the soundtrack.
Next up are twenty tracks of score. Track 1, "Main Titles - Jungle Run," begins with Debney's re-orchestrated castle intro, followed by the updated George Bruns score before diving into Debney's original action theme. Track 2, "Wolves - Law of the Jungle" introduces the sweet theme that comes to represent home for Mowgli. This theme is carried over throughout the film to various degrees of emphasis and it's one of my favorites. Melodies from the three aforementioned songs are interwoven throughout the score at the appropriate times, such as "Trust in Me" during track 9, "Kaa - Baloo to the Rescue" and "I Wanna Be Like You" in track 15, "Cold Lair Chase." But the best orchestral rearrangement is without a doubt track 21, "Mowgli Wins the Race," which is an empowering version of "The Bear Necesseties" and was used in some of the trailers. Those looking for one track that encapsulates all of Debney's melodies will find it in track 22, "The Jungle Book Closes."
Closing out the soundtrack are two more versions of classic songs. Christopher Walken's end credit jazz version of "I Wanna Be Like You" features Dr. John and his band and was recorded in New Orleans. This version features the new lyrics by Richard Sherman written for the film. From that same recording trip comes Bill Murray's version of "The Bear Necessities," which also features vocals by Kermit Ruffins. However, the versions as heard in the film are absent from the soundtrack, which is a shame. Granted, neither are full musical numbers and are probably best enjoyed in the film, their exclusion is puzzling.
I'm a big fan of John Debney, who has written some of my favorite scores to films like Hocus Pocus and The Princess Diaries. His new score for The Jungle Book is as good as his work in those films and instantly ranks high among his collected works. The new arrangements of music from the animated film, as well as the covers, make this a wise purchase for any Disney fan with an ever-growing library of Disney music. But if there's one track I can't stop listening to, it's definitely "Mowgli Wins the Race."