THE JUNGLE BOOK Movie Review
Visually stunning and fun for the whole family, The Jungle Book is a delightful time for all ages; though the newest adaptation lacks the emotional punch of even its predecessor, even when reaching far deeper depths in tone.
Disney is proving with one film after another that they are not afraid of touching their old properties and did so once more recently with The Jungle Book. Taking inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of short stories that compromised the became known as The Jungle Book, as well as a second collection called The Second Jungle Book. While Kipling’s novel spans multiple different stories and characters, the best known has become the character of Mowgli the “man-cub” who was raised in the Indian jungle by wolves and lived amongst various anthropomorphic animals. Although these stories remained popular for decades and even further gained a following with Walt Disney’s 1967 animated classic also titled The Jungle Book, Kipling purists may take issues with the liberties taken with many of the characters and storylines. With the latest offering being yet another reimagining of the tale, audiences were eager to see what Jon Favreau brought to the big screen.
Fortunately, he was up for the task.
Before discussing the film itself, it is important to note that this is not the animated film you or your children may have grown up with. For starters, the 2016 retelling is much darker than its predecessor and does take liberties in regard to the story. While the heart and spirit of the 1967 classic, this isn’t the same film you once knew. Cutting edge, state of the art digital effects take center stage as the jungle is brought to life in a way never seen before. The animals talk and have personalities just like in the original, but appear more life-like than ever. Death, something infrequently addressed before, is significantly more prominent and lends itself to the mature tone of the film. This is The Jungle Book, but not exactly the one you used to know.
In many ways, Director John Favreau kept his film very close to the original in both its message and spirit but yet feels distinctly different; a topic that could irk some audience members looking for an exact copy of the prior Disney film. Favreau’s visual influence on the film cannot be understated in the slightest, with some of the best use of CGI ever brought to the cinema. Every leaf, every blade of grass, every hair on an animal’s head, and each shadow is carefully crafted with immaculate detail. In a film with only real life actor, the animals quite often steal the spotlight from newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Sethi performs as well as you could expect for someone acting exclusively with a green screen in their debut feature film, but there are moments where the world around him feels small, no matter how much Favreau would love for you to believe it is larger. While Sethi does his best to be the emotional anchor the story needs, there are flaws to the script that prevent him and his character from being able to deliver on that promise.
The remainder of the cast performs exceedingly well in their capacities, although some efforts do feel too on the nose by letting the actors add parts of their personalities into the characters. Bill Murray doesn’t so much become Baloo as much as Baloo becomes Billy Murray. To fans of Murray, this may be a treat, but it seems to have altered how the character was written to fit Murray’s often aloof personality. In doing so, Baloo’s relationship with Mowgli doesn’t develop the emotional bond they had in the animated classic and leaves the film feeling more detached because of it. Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba as Bagheera and Shere Khan, on the other hand, do very well and bring performances reminiscent of the original while also adding some more endearing, and fearsome, qualities to their respective characters. Scarlett Johansson and Lupita Nyong’o also do well with their more limited roles, but they aren’t given as much screen time as you would like, especially Johansson whose role is very small. Christopher Walken’s King Louie suffers in much the same way that Murray’s Baloo, in that the changes to the character feel out of place in the film and allow Louie, now looking like a real orangutan, to be almost as cartoonish as his prior version. Minor nitpicks, yes, but elements that do have a way of taking you out of the film.
Script and character flaws aside, The Jungle Book is a visually stunning adaptation of the classic story that showcases the pinnacle of what photo-realistic CGI can be now, and possibly in the future. The landscapes, environment, and animals aren’t real, but the amount of painstaking detail done by the visual effects team would lead you to believe it is; with only the animals speaking as a clear indication that what you are seeing isn’t real. The visuals, along with Favreau’s sharp direction of them make The Jungle Book the must-see film experience that it is. Although this version is not as child-friendly as the original, I would recommend ages 8 and up due to some scenes of violence and darker tones, it is one of Disney’s best live-action adaptations of a prior film yet and pays a proper amount of respect to what came before it.
The Jungle Book is directed by Jon Favreau and stars Neil Sethi, as well as the voice talents of Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Billy Murray, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, and Lupita Nyong’o.