Movie Review: ‘The Jungle Book’
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Lupito Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson
Plot: A human boy is raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves. When feared tiger Shere Khan goes on the hunt, the boy goes on the run and encounters a range of different ways of life.
Review: There’s something that confounds me about this new trend of Disney making live-action versions of their animated classics. Sure, they’re bringing in money from the nostalgic crowd but there are such artistic restrictions on the material they don’t add much to the experience we grew up with. Cinderella didn’t offer much to anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the original film. The new releases actually feel like diluted versions of the classics, taking something rich and filtering it through a new lens. The characters look the same, much of the dialogue is the same and the story hits the same beats but none of it comes from a spark of inspiration but an attempt to replicate another product. So I’ve said my piece on the trend, let’s look at their latest: The Jungle Book.
Of all Disney has in their back catalogue this seems best suited to a revisit. Not being part of the Princess brand means that it doesn’t get much attention nowadays and will have a new audience, and it’s setting opens it up to some impressive visuals. This latter point is one of the film’s strengths. Jon Favreau is experienced in making popular family-friendly films like Elf and Zathura and it shows in this film. It’s bright, bold and a real treat for the eyes. The CGI created animals blend in perfectly and have clearly had a lot of love put into them. It’s possible they made use of the technology developed for Zootopia because of the level of detail is astounding.
Young actor Neel Sethi is amazing as Mowgli. Not only is he a 12 year old carrying a major movie, he’s the only live action performance in the film. They’ve done well with this casting choice. The remainders of the voice cast are mostly made based on the actor’s public image as much as their ability. It’s hard to argue with Ben Kingsley as the wise Bagheera and Bill Murray as happy-go-lucky Baloo, but we often feel like professional voice actors are increasingly given the short shift when a major production like this rolls around. There does seem to be a reliance on the actors reputation to sell the role rather than working with performers who specialize in voice work.
It seems to be hit and miss with the changes made from the source material. The ending rings a bit better in the modern time, moving away from the message that people need to be with their own kind, and there’s a lot of tension in scenes such as the meeting with Kaa the snake. Shere-Khan is more developed as an enemy and is a much scarier proposition, but part of us misses the diabolical, gentlemanly bad guy of the original. Some of the changes are counter-production, however, such as King Louie going from a regular sized orangutang to a giant may result in an extended action sequence but takes all the energy out of his musical number. Getting Christopher Walken to sing ‘I Want to Be Like You’ is awesome, but when he’s just sitting still instead of dancing around it winds up kinds flat.
There’s a lot of nit-picking in this review, but overall it is a fun family movie. It’s got some warm moments, some scary moments and some visually spectacular moments and it does a lot more right than wrong and most punters will be happy with it.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN