The Jungle Book
This is one of the few times I was excited about a remake. They took a cute 1967 animated film, and gave us this mind-boggling CGI filled experience that visually, put me in awe the way I was watching Avatar. Aside from how amazing the animals looked, the child Mowgli, played well by Neel Sethi, also does a good job. The voices of the animals are perfect. Bill Murray brings the charm and humor. Idris Elba is a great villain. And…I was pleasantly surprised to hear the neurotic voice of Garry Shandling, in what is probably his last film role. The usually reliable Jon Favreau directed this well enough, and the pacing is strong. The problem lies in a few other things. The first one being the sweet nature of the original being lost. Sure, there’s a lot more action, but there’s a problem with that, too. The film had to be rated PG, and really isn’t suitable for kids under the age of 8.
I was pleasantly surprised they kept the song “Bare Necessities” in the film, as well as “I Wanna Be Like You” (side note: it’s a shame more people don’t realize Louis Prima was a musical genius); yet, with two songs, the movie isn’t a musical, and they feel forced into the picture.
For those that aren’t familiar with the Kipling tales (this screenplay written by Justin Marks), the film starts with a young boy named Mowgli running with the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera found him years earlier, and brought him to a wolf pack to be raised safely. The mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) is worried about him, and when the other wolves think it’s best he leaves the pack (after a threat from the tiger), he’s off on his own. He meets Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), who at first just wants to use the boy to get honey he can’t reach. Mowgli feels he owes him, because Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson), was about to kill him. Baloo seems to care very little that the boy gets stung retrieving his honey, but they quickly form a bond.
Christopher Walken as King Louie, the biggest and baddest of the apes, is probably going to be more fun to the adults that recognize his voice (and the inside joke of having a cowbell near him).
The movie is visually stunning, and there are some interesting set-pieces. The 3-D adds a bit of fun to it all, too. It just seems the storytelling lacked something.
This is the perfect movie for kids between the ages of 8 and 13. Anybody younger is too young for the violence. Anybody older just won’t care enough. That includes most adults.
That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy spending a few hours escaping into this jungle. I just felt that, after such impressive trailers, the film would be better.
Coming after the amazing Zootopia— Disney is going to have a lot of success with animals this year.
This gets 2 ½ stars out of 5.