TL;DR – While not a flawless movie, it is beautifully crafted and a great follow-up to the Disney classic.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Jungle Book continues Disney’s campaign to recreate its classic animated films in live action remakes or hybrid live action. So far we have had the quite bold Maleficent, the serviceable Cinderella, and now it is time to take on Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece ‘The Jungle Book’. The choice to do The Jungle Book is an interesting one because it is not without its problems, the original cartoon while still a classic in every right, does have some very problematic depictions. As well as this, the author of the original work is Rudyard Kipling and whether Mr Kipling intended to or not his poem “The White Man’s Burden” became a literary justification for a new wave (or at least an intensification) of colonialism and imperialism throughout the world. So while none of this would have been problematic in the 1960s, it is today, and it is clear Disney or at least the director and writer had these issues on the radar when filming. So within this potentially problematic environment, it is really quite interesting to see Disney take quite a risk here, and it is a risk I do believe that has paid off for them.
So for those who have never seen the classic film, or read the books (and at this point you should seriously consider doing both of those, if you have not already) The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) a human child ‘man-cub’ that is raised by wolves Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) as another member of the pack in the Indian jungle. Then on comes Shere Khan (Idris Elba) to simply mess absolutely everything up, and to propel young Mowgli on a journey to find his destiny. It may indeed be a classic formula for a story, but hey they don’t call it a classic for no reason.
So, ok I am going to do something a bit different here than usual and start with the problems with the film and then move on to the positives. Firstly while the animation is absolutely gorgeous, you do have the problem of almost photorealistic animals talking English (or any language) and as such on occasions you really hit the ‘uncanny valley’. Neel Sethi is a really accomplished actor for someone his age and does the role of Mowgli justice, but he does not quite have the range that was needed to hit every emotional beat in the film. Finally, while I think Christopher Walken was a truly interesting choice for King Louie, and he got the menacing aspect of the character down pat, he just did not work when it can to the character’s iconic song.
However, none of that matters when you watch Mowgli intact with Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) or Baloo (Bill Murray). It might not be lions and tigers and bears oh my, but Mowgli does have a very interesting bunch of parents, taking the notion of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ in a very interesting direction. Or when you watch Shere Khan own every scene he is in, the combination of the animation and Idris Elba’s impeccable performance really brings the character to life in a truly menacing way. Or the simply gorgeous scenery, seriously I can’t mention enough just how pretty this film is. Or when those songs of the past come back with a vengeance, I was in a room full of old people and when they started you could feel the energy in the audience. Or all the little animals that are hilarious which provide a little bit of needed joviality it what can be quite a dark story. Or simply watching a classic story reinterpreted for a new age, and the director and writer and actors, just getting it right.
I can highly recommend The Jungle Book, though I would say that you might want to be careful with quite young children as there are some scenes that would be quite scary for them. It’s a solid film with a great cast, great visuals and a strong story, a great family film, indeed a great anyone film.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Jon Favreau
Screenplay by – Justin Marks
Based on – The Jungle Book and other works by Rudyard Kipling
Starring – Neel Sethi, Bill Murry, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson & Christopher Walken
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: PG; UK: 12A, USA: PG