Over the course of history, it’s known that a work can have multiple interpretations made over its lifetime in order to demonstrate the values of the story with modern audiences. These works can range from contemporary films with changes in technology to support the story to updated visions that give an alternative light to the themes and elements. From Tarzan to Beauty and the Beast, a new evolution of the story will always come along. Case in point, Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 masterpiece The Jungle Book! Since its writing, many interpretations have been made for television and film, the most famous of which being the Disney animated classic from 1967. From beautiful animation, fun voice acting, and music that makes everyone want to go back to the days of the Bear Necessities, this film has stood the test of time, making it the basis for today’s live-action remake.
Within this decade, we've seen an interesting circumstance has occurred related to this story. In 2012, Warner Brothers announced a Jungle Book: Origins film with focus on making a universe from it. For over three years, the film has flip-flopped between various directors and writing teams before turning to Andy Serkis (a.k.a. Gollum) to direct. Originally set for release this year, the film won't be out till October 2018 due to various scheduling, technology, and other miscellaneous issues. Compare that to today's feature which was announced by Disney in 2013 as a live action/CGI retelling of the 1967 classic. How does it fair? Let's find out as this is The Jungle Book.
Following an introduction with some familiar music, we are introduced to Mowgli (our only live actor played by Neel Sethi) being raised as a man-cub in a pack of Indian wolves having been brought here by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) some years ago. During a dry season at the Peace Rock, the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) appears and threatens to kill Mowgli and those who protect him for defying the law of the jungle. As the rains come back and before the wolf Alpha Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his wolf mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) can decide what to do, Mowgli decides to leave the pack with Bagheera who will take him back to the man village. The two become separated during an attack by Shere Khan, leaving Mowgli alone to search the jungle where he interacts with other animals, such as Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson), Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and King Louie (Christopher Walken).
This film’s story is easy to follow and draws you in from the word go. Jon Favreau does remarkably in remaking the Disney classic in this live action format with the CGI set up as well. Everything meshes together with the story from screenwriter Justin Marks down to the visual style of the CG. I feel it was the right choice to make the animals in CG with CG jungle environments as established with Moving Picture Company and Weta Digital doing the design work on both. This creates a world that feels lush and colorful that you wouldn’t mind setting foot in from time to time.
On to acting credits, this is Neel Sethi’s debut in the film and he does a remarkable job playing the young Mowgli. He reacts as a young boy his age should and feels natural in the role. You feel concerned for the boy and can tell he is having fun with this from start to finish. With being the only live actor, he holds the weight of the film on his shoulders which he does a great job doing. Voice acting, we have to start with Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Elba gives it his all in this film and plays the old tiger with such a menace that he caught me off guard. This is very different compared to the subdued performance George Sanders gives in the original that hides the threat that comes from A GIANT FREAKING TIGER!!! Bill Murray is great as Baloo, giving a loving performance as the lovable bear while having that Murray quality about him you can’t help but love. Ben Kingsley gives a very loving yet stern run as Bagheera which is understandable considering his connecting to Mowgli. Even one scene wonders, like Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa and Christopher Walken’s King Louie, are fun to watch while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
My only issue with the film comes from the use of music in this one. I don’t have any complaints with John Debney’s score. It has some nice elements of the retro from the 1967 version with parts of the original theme and parts of known songs and cues mixed in with the original score that he provides for Mowgli’s journey. What gets me is the return of those classic songs. “Trust in Me,” “Bear Necessities,” and “I Wanna be Like You” are “performed” in some way, shape, or form during the course of the feature and not all in song format. Some of it felt off to me but it doesn’t fully detract from my experience with the film.
This movie is excellent and I would suggest going out to theaters this weekend and giving this movie a shot. I think that plenty of you out there will enjoy it. And if not, you can always go back to the original. And if not that, I guess there is always October 2018, assuming patience and that Warner Brothers doesn’t move the date again.
Thanks for following today’s JEHT Review. Next time, I plan on looking at Ratchet and Clank to see if the Insomniac Games duo can make cross media success or if they’ll suffer like all other video game movies. So, assuming I don’t get a set of hunting axes thrown at me, catch you all next time!