Dan's Review: Disney's "Jungle Book" remake visually stunning
Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book - © 2016 Disney
The Jungle Book (Disney)
Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.
Starring Neel Sethi with voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling.
Written by Justin Marks, based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
I’m never shy when it comes to criticizing Disney over the studio’s addiction to repurposing their classic animated content into a steady flow of cash via live-action remakes. It’s not that some of their retreads terrible (see: Malificent). It’s just that Disney seems devoted to synergistic marketing instead of creating quality, innovative, new content. Their animation studios don't seem to have nay problems creating new stuff, but everything else coming out of the live action studio is ridden with what I call “Disnergy,” and it’s not even that subtle. When I heard Disney was going to remake their 1967 classic The Jungle Book into a live action drama, I was skeptical, to say the least.
The basic story from the 1967 animated film is basically intact. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a human “man cub” raised in the jungle by wolf dad Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and mom Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). When it becomes apparent that Shere Khan (Idris Elba) intends to kill the boy, Bagheera the panther (Ben Kinglsey), is tasked with getting him to the man village. Along the way, Mowgli meets and befriends Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and barely survives encounters with Ka the python (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie the giant orangutan (Christopher Walken). Eventually, Mowgli must face Shere Khan, while the boy’s animal friends must decide whether they should risk their lives for a human or not.
While sticking to the 1967 animated story, there are a few twists taken by director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks, both of whom gravitated toward Rudyard Kipling’s original story in his books published in the late 1800s. The new Jungle Book film also twists some of the content from the animated version, and those changes have more to do with voice casting. For instance, Bill Murray’s Baloo comes across as more of a slacker/grifter than Phil Harris’ version. Christopher Walken’s King Louie personification comes across as more of a sinister mob boss, unlike Louis Prima’s fun-loving goofball. Scarlett Johannson’s Ka is much more sinister (and hypnotic) than Sterling Holloway’s frustrated hunter.
Another difference that should be noted is the inclusion of the original songs from the animated classic. Bill Murray’s rendition of “The Bare Necessities” is reminiscent of his “lounge singer” act from his Saturday Night Live days. Walken’s version of “I Wanna Be Like You” is distinctly different than Prima’s 1967 version as well, while Johansson’s “Trust In Me” didn’t make the cut during her scene, but does play in the end credits. Each voice performer added their own personality and sound to the new version, and that’s not a bad thing. If they’d tried to impersonate the original performers, or other voice actors had been cast sound like the 1967 version, it would have been disastrous.
So, while this new version of The Jungle Book is very much the same as the animated classic, it is also unique in delivery and tone. One thing that makes it so unique is the computer effects that render the animals depicted in the film,as lifelike and authentic, while expressing real emotions. I was not as impressed with the movie’s ending, which is a departure from the animated version - and a little strange.
No matter where you fall in preference toward the 1967 animated film or Kipling’s original stories, the new version of The Jungle Book is pretty good film standing on its own. It’s a visually stunning movie and mostly exciting, even if you kind of know what’s coming.
If Disney is going to keep on recycling its best stuff, they might as well make decent films like The Jungle Book.
The Jungle Book Trailer