There’s always the chance that a remake will not live up to the original, and here Jon Favreau directs what Disney is referring to a “live action” remake of The Jungle Book. However, it’s not THAT much live action. Most of this is green screened on stages in downtown Los Angeles, so really the CGI is just another form of animation.
Either way, this new Jungle Book film adaptation is a beautiful and remarkably detailed one with mostly excellent voice actors. However, it doesn’t seem to quite reach the level of overall excellence that all the hype claimed before it hit theaters. There is some tonal issues where the songs are concerned.
This version of The Jungle Book pretty much follows the 1967 animated classic story: Mowgli, the “man cub” (Neel Sehti) was raised by wolves in the jungle, while also mentored by Bagheera the black panther (Ben Kingsley). Because the Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is very cranky, and knows Mowgli will become a man one day, he wants to kill him. Bagheera wants to bring Mowgli to the nearest man village, and along the way the fun-loving bear Baloo, also tries to convince the boy to go.
The overall tone of the film is a bit more dramatic, though there is still some fun to be had. Most of that is attributed to the genius voice casting of Bill Murray as the fun, lazy bear, Baloo. An added delight is that Baloo is that sort of layabout clown with his heart in the right place much like many of the characters Bill Murray has played over the years.
Also among the great voice casting in this is Ben Kingsley, adding some gravitas as the panther Bagheera. The great Idris Elba voices the menacing Shere Khan and does a superb job of it. On top of that, the tiger is written as a more complex character, expanding him beyond just a bad guy just looking for power or to instill fear. He actually has a valid point of view from the animals perspective, making us think about his actions before judging them so quickly.
Another prominent voice is that of Christopher Walken as the orangutan, King Louie. At first you might not think he’s a good choice here, but they portray King Louie in a more ominous way. He’s larger, and they introduce him to us in shadow, almost in a Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now sort of way. It’s kind of cool, but then, they have him sing the song “I Wan’na Be Like You”, which is sort of out of character because the song is so upbeat and fun. I don’t think it was a total mistake, but the tone is definitely a bit off.
And speaking of songs, the other inclusion is, of course, “The Bare Necessities” sung my Bill Murray as Baloo. It feels more tonally logical – and a fun inclusion – even if it does come off as a little less than one hundred percent committed as a performance.
The voice talent is one of the great strengths of The Jungle Book, as it’s all pretty spot on. Other voices are those of Giancarlo Espostio, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson in a nice twist as Kaa, the giant python, and Garry Shandling as Ikki the porcupine, in what looks like his last acting performance.
As the only real live actor in the film, Neel Sethi is a fine Mowgli. This is his first feature film, and he holds his own, offering the commitment and ability needed to sell us his character as well as his interaction with what is essentially nothing but a green screen. 🙂
The CGI is pretty remarkable. Everything is computer animated here, the animals, the jungle itself, EVERYTHING. It must be almost entirely green screened. But the level of detail is phenomenal. I totally forgot I was watching a film that was basically all CG, and that’s a good thing.
Jon Favreau keeps the direction lively when we follow Mowgli running through the jungle, leaping from branch to branch, and during confrontations between Shere Khan and Bagheera. And he deftly composes scenes of the jungle and Serengeti type landscapes, using every bit of those great digital effects.
All in all, this Jungle Book is a solid version of the story with excellent use of technology and casting, if not a little shaky in its’ inclusion of the two songs. I suspect Disney wanted to try to appease people that would be expecting them rather than maintain a consistent dramatic tone throughout. But it’s still a worthwhile look, and gets a solid three and a half kittenhands. It’s still a good time at the movies.
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, thankful they didn’t add any goofy dancing stuff during the two musical numbers.