The Jungle Book Review: The Law of the CGI Jungle

3.5 reels out of 5

Hey, Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com! Today, I’m delving into the wonderful world of Disney with the brand-new live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel The Jungle Book. Adapted for animation back in 1967 by Disney, the original Jungle Book is considered one of the animation studio’s many children’s classics. Has Disney been able to recreate the magic of its classic creation? Let’s find out.

So here’s the story. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a young “man-cub” who was raised by a pack of wolves deep in the Indian jungle with the help of the black panther, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Mowgli is perfectly content with the wolves despite not fitting in. But when an evil man-eating tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens the safety of pack unless they turn Mowgli over to him, the other animals decide that Mowgli should return to his own kind. Mowgli is unhappy about leaving the Jungle as its all he’s ever known. Still, he accepts Bagheera’s advice and agrees to leave until they become suddenly separated. Mowgli ends up on his own and ends up on an adventure that introduces him to several strange characters like Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray), Kaa the Snake (Scarlett Johanssen), and King Louis (Christopher Walken) while searching for an answer to who he should be.

For those of you who might be hoping that this movie is closer to the book than the original I’m sorry to say that the story in this movie is largely a beat for beat retelling of the classic Disney movie, with a few new but still interesting elements thrown in.

The wolves play a much larger role in this film than the original and have more of a connection to Mowgli, which makes them feel more like contributing characters, especially since they introduce us to the concept of The Law of the Jungle, which is pulled straight from Kipling’s poem. I’ll admit I could listen to Giancarlo Esposito—who plays the Alpha wolf—recite this poem all day and never tire of it.

Shere Khan is also given something of a backstory beyond just hating humans, even though the backstory itself is flimsy at best and might have been best if just left out. He’s a man-eating, man-hating tiger. We don’t need more than that to understand him. It doesn’t help that he’s just not a very interesting character to watch. Idris Elba does an admirable acting job trying to make him intimidating but his fate is never in question.

Speaking of acting, the cast in this movie is quite impressive. I give special nods to Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, who always brings a grace and wise tone to every scene he’s in, and to Bill Murray who manages the perfect blend of wise-cracking humor and sincerity as Baloo. But the biggest credit has to go to Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Because so much of the movie is computer-generated, a lot of the audience‘s ability to suspend their disbelief is dependent wholly on Sethi’s performance. If he doesn’t believe he’s in the jungle then neither will we. The fact that we’re so caught up in the environment of the jungle is a testament to how good his acting is.

The major weak-spot in the cast for me, is Christopher Walken as King Louie. Why? Just…why?In the original movie—which this movie draws from so much—King Louie was a certified-crazy goofball orangutan who wanted the power of fire. He also loves jazz. If this movie was trying to be completely faithful to this idea that would be fine. But instead it tries to set Louie up as a powerful, frightening, and intimidating villain. That would be fine too if it actually stuck to that and the choice of Christopher Walken makes sense from a certain perspective. But every word that comes out of his mouth sounds like Christopher Walken doing a King Louie impression, not from King Louie himself.

That brings me to arguably the worst part of this entire movie: King Louie’s song, “I wanna be like you.” After having King Louie set up as this big, intimidating monkey he then starts up a Jazz tune. To say that this was jarring would be the understatement of the…well maybe not the year but at least the week. I was facepalming through the entire song, hoping it would end. It is that bad. While Baloo does “Bare Necessities” as well in this film it fits more with his character and the tone of the scenes he’s in so it doesn’t feel as out of place. The real problem with this is that King Louie’s song is that its an example of a movie being slaved to its source material—the original 1967 animated film—rather than paying homage to it. Being faithful to source material is all well and good, but in this case the film was trying to do something different with the King Louie character while keeping in elements from the source material and they just didn’t mix. It’s trying to be all things to all people and sadly its a rather common occurrence in film adaptations and remakes.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Kaa the Python, it’s because there isn’t much of Kaa to mention. He/She/It is in the movie and almost eats Mowgli. That’s all I have to say about that.

Before I wrap up, I have to give props to the real star of this movie: the effects. While the animal effects are decent, I don’t think they’re that much better than the animals you would see in a film like Chronicles of Narnia. But the backgrounds and the environments in this film are simply stunning. Knowing that most of what is seen on-screen is computer generated simply makes it more amazing. You actually believe you’re in the Jungle and while Neel Sethi’s performance sells the idea, it still has to give us enough of a show to support his performance and it passes that test with flying colors. I wish we had the chance to see more of this world. Then again, considering Disney is fast-tracking a sequel after the monster opening this movie had, I may not have to wait that long.

Conclusion:

The Jungle Book is a fun and at times intense ride through the titular jungle. However, as I mentioned earlier, it does suffer from being too dependent on the original animated movie and as such the very need for its existence seems to be in question. This is especially true when that dependency keeps it from doing its own thing (e.g. King Louie).

Make no mistake, there are things about the Jungle Book that cannot and should not be changed. Mowgli’s conflict with Shere Khan, his friendship with Baloo, his trust with Bagheera; these things are good as they are and the film rightfully leaves them as they are.

But the movie works best when it shows us things that are new. Mowgli’s “tricks”, his relationship with the Mother Wolf and the rest of the Pack, the Law of the Jungle, the Peace Rock underneath the river. All of these are elements that expand on a story that’s already been told and they were by far the best thing about this movie. It’s just a shame that there wasn’t more of that in here.

I heartily recommend seeing this movie, if only for the visuals. This is a technical marvel of filmmaking and a great addition to the Disney collection. But if you’re looking for something that truly feels new and you’ve already seen the animated movie, this won’t be it. For me it has all the bare necessities that a Jungle Book movie should have, but comes up a few bananas short of being truly special.

What did you think of The Jungle Book? Let me know in the comments section below or tell me on Twitter @Lightwielder524. Have a great week and as usual, May the Flick be with You!

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