Length: 105 mins
Writer: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (book)
Dir.: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken
One of the first things that strikes you about the movie is that it is absolutely gorgeous to look at. For a film that must have been almost entirely computer generated, the jungle setting feels incredibly real and all the animals are rendered in eye-watering brilliant detail. It’s a joy to watch – although the animation can be a bit jarring at times. There is a scene with King Louie – voiced by Christopher Walken – that looks scarily like the actor and somehow provokes some serious ‘uncanny valley’ vibes despite the character being a massive orangutan.
On that note, the voice acting is similarly well done. Idris Elba is particularly menacing as Shere Khan, and Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Kaa is wonderfully creepy. The only slight problem I had with the voice cast was Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera – he just seemed bored and it felt like a phoned in performance. The real stand out here, though, is Bill Murray as Baloo – which was an inspired casting choice. He just is Baloo. He arrives pretty late in the narrative, but pretty much steals the show. Neel Sethi – the kid playing Mowgli – does exceptionally well considering he must have done the majority of this on his own in front of a green screen. I mean, he was a bit annoying at times, but the character was insanely irritating in the original so I guess it’s in keeping with the material.
It’s apparent right from the off that this version of The Jungle Book borrows more from Rudyard Kippling’s book than the 1967 cartoon (or at least I assume so – I haven’t read the book yet). This is actually one of the few problems I have with this movie – the awkward dichotomy between the source material and the cartoon version. At times the story felt disconnected, with certain sequences seemingly included because they had to be, rather than because it served the plot. This was particularly apparent in the Kaa scene – which was brilliantly done, but felt surprisingly out of place in a story that had mostly been doing its own thing up to that point. I was also pleasantly surprised that they included songs from the 1967 movie – complete with the original music. Again though, it feels like they had to include them – which kind of takes away from their charm.
I suppose that’s the inherent problem with all these live action re-tellings – which makes it even weirder that Disney has optioned so many. If you depart too much from the original, older fans will be annoyed that it isn’t the same. Include too much of the original, and people would complain about the pointlessness of remaking it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Despite all of that though, The Jungle Book is a really enjoyable movie. While I’m always going to have a soft spot for the cartoon, I can definitely appreciate this re-imagining. It has a grander scale, fantastic visuals, at times it is genuinely scary and at others it’s endearingly charming. Well worth a watch, no matter how old you are.