Over the past few years, there has been a trend of Disney remaking their classic animated films in live action and they’ve generally been a mixed bag. Sometimes we’ve got pretty terrible films like Maleficent, other times we’ve got some pretty decent films like Cinderella. This time though, we’ve got a genuinely brilliant film from this trend with The Jungle Book.
The film concerns Mowgli, a human raised by wolves in the jungle after his father was killed. During a temporary truce during a drought, Mowgli gets marked for death by the tiger Shere Khan and he has to be escorted out of the jungle by the panther Bagheera to the human village, but along the way he gets attacked by Shere Khan and separated from Bagheera and needs to find his way to the human village on his own, eventually running into the bear Baloo, all the while Shere Khan is searching for Mowgli. On paper this is pretty much identical to the original Disney film but it’s in the smaller details that the film shines. The whole world building of this version is much stronger than in the original particularly in the lore of the jungle, the scenes with the elephants and the nature of the water truce adding a great deal of mysticism that fits the tone of the film. The film also does a better job of explaining the importance and danger of fire, both physically and psychologically, compared to the original film, making the scene where Mowgli uses it have more thematic weight, showing the dark side he’s going down. There’s also a good story regarding the contrast between the pack tendencies of the Wolves and the natural human ingenuity of Mowgli, which adds to the character development of Mowgli throughout the film. There’s also good work done with Shere Khani in relation to the wolves, creating some brilliantly intimidating moments when he acts more caring, plus the change in nature of fire in the film adds more weight to Shere Khan’s backstory. However, there are problems in the plot. Elements like Shere Khan’s relationship with the wolf cubs could have done with a bit more development, the dynamic of the wolves could have been expanded on more and there are some scenes which could have been cut out without impacting the plot, it feeling like they are only there because they were in the original. This is most prominently seen with Kaa, on it’s own the scene is great but in context of the film, there was nothing it added to the film as a whole, the only thing it revealed being something that Kaa couldn’t have possibly known. There’s also a pretty severe tonal shift in the film as Baloo is introduced immediately after that scene, with the film taking on a lighter tone in the scenes with Baloo which doesn’t really mesh with the dark atmosphere of the rest of the film.
In terms of the performances, the film does a great job. Neel Sethi was a great find as Mowgli, partly due to the way the film was made which ensured he had a stable eyeline throughout and his overall demeanour as Mowgli. The decisions he makes throughout the film feel natural as a result of the performance, showing his care for the wolves, his natural ingenuity and his anger near the end of the film. It could have been easy for this performance to become annoying but Sethi makes Mowgli relatable throughout. For the voice performances, Bill Murray is perfect as Baloo, the con artist style he has when we first see him being a great introduction to the character but as Baloo starts to care more about Mowgli, Murray’s performance becomes a lot warmer, whilst still retaining his relaxed nature. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera meanwhile has the calm, regal quality associated with the character from the original film, his care for Mowgli being present throughout, this caring nature also seen with Lupita N’yongo as Raksha, whilst never letting you forget the power the character has. Idris Elba as Shere Khan meanwhile is a great intimidating presence, his booming voice having the power necessary for the character, but the real terror comes when he goes quiet and becomes more intimate with some of the wolves, this being the most intimidating part of the film, along with Elba adding to the increased depth for Shere Khan. Scarlett Johansson meanwhile is brilliantly seductive as Kaa, even if the screentime is limited and Giancarlo Esposito makes for a brilliantly regal Akela. The standout of the cast though is Christopher Walken as King Louie. As many other reviewers have stated he plays Louie less like a king and more like a mob boss, there being this great mix of charm and threat to the character, acting like the character has gone insane in his obsession with fire and the growing insanity of the vocal performance helps make Louie a brilliantly intimidating presence.
On a technical level, the film is incredible. The CG used here is some of the best in any film, up there with Avatar and Gravity. The way the jungle itself is designed is beautiful, there being so much detail in every little thing we see to make the jungle this great believable world. The design also reflects the tone, especially in regards to the lighting which does an amazing job reflecting the tone for each scene, especially near the end. The animation for the animals is excellent as well, the movements for them feeling really believable in this type of world and the facial animation for them reflecting the actors who play them, most notably with King Louie. The integration of Neel Sethi into the film is excellent, with the direction used for him interacting with the environment and ensuring he has a proper eyeline being brilliantly handled. The whole design of the film is something I cannot do justice in a review, you need to see it for yourself. On a music level the film is strong, the score for the film being very well done and it’s always good to hear the music from the original film, The Bare Necessities fitting in well with the film and hearing Christopher Walken sing I Wanna Be Like You during the credits being one of the highlights, although it’s integration in the actual film feels a bit out of place.
Overall, The Jungle Book is a brilliant version of the story, having enough references to the original Disney film to be a good nostalgia trip (especially with a brilliantly presentation for the end credits) whilst also doing great work in expanding the characters and the world, aided by excellent performances across the board and some of the most beautiful CG ever put to film, the technical brilliance alone being worth the price of admission.
My Rating: 4/5