Last week, the Fella, Bill and I went to see the new Jungle Book movie – we thought it fitting to go with Bill since he was our special guest for the Disney Odyssey Jungle Book edition. Bill is also our resident expert on Baloo, sloth bears, and ursine creatures of all kinds, so it was reasonable to expect he’d have opinions on the new film.
For this spoiler-free review of Disney’s “The Jungle Book” (2016) I will say the following:
It. Is. Beautiful. This movie is utterly enchanting visually – the texture of fur, jungle trees and grasses and leaves are all incredibly visible and almost tangible. The seamlessness of the CGI animation is jaw-dropping and utterly awesome. They have really pulled out all the stops to make Mowgli’s jungle and his animal friends extremely realistic. Even when the animals’ mouths move as they speak, I still felt completely taken in by the accuracy of the animation – I had to remind myself several times that they weren’t well-trained live actors but computer generated animals instead.
Neel Sethi as Mowgli is fantastic. He is a bright-eyed, intelligent child with the iconic unruly black hair and neatly-arranged red loincloth, but he isn’t as silly as the cartoon version of Mowgli was. Sethi’s Mowgli is a clever problem-solver and an inventor rather than a whiny acrobat. He takes his place in the wolf pack seriously, although his human body restricts him from keeping up with the young wolves as much as he wants to, and he does everything he can to make everyone’s lives easier. His ‘tricks’ (as Akela calls them) don’t always go over well with the other animals, but Mowgli can’t help it – he loves to solve problems and use his environment to his advantage. After all, man is a tool-using animal. Besides fabulously inhabiting the character, Sethi is fantastic and connected throughout, considering the fact that he’s acting with blue screens, green screens, people in morphsuits, tennis balls on sticks, and other stand-ins for the CGI animals and jungle scenes. Also he’s twelve. Color me impressed.
The voice acting is perfect. Sir Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera is as dignified and patriarchal as he possibly could be, showing a fierce love of Mowgli throughout the film – despite his frustrations with Mowgli’s lack of order. Bill Murray is as casual and self-interested a Baloo as Phil Harris was in the cartoon, but rather than jazzy scat-singing, Murray’s sloth bear belts “Bare Necessities” with the wild abandon of a drunk but hilarious uncle at karaoke. His rambling dialogue is funny and endearing without trying to recreate the former incarnations of his character. Scarlett Johansson is surprising, eerie, and (yeah, I know) a little bit sexy as Kaa – and made me wish she was in much more of the film. The only awkward bit is when Christopher Walken’s truly ominous, powerful, mob-boss King Louie suddenly attempts an unfunny, aggressive, spoken-word rendition of the catchy, jazzy, fun “I Wanna Be Like You.” Honestly, this moment would be better off playing through the closing credits (like Johansson’s “Trust In Me” which is SUCH a Bond theme). But the rest of Walken’s characterization is fine – and honestly a little bit scary .Also, Idris Elba is absolutely terrifying as Shere Khan. That’s all I can say.
The movie is not a direct remake of the animated film from 1967. The dialogue is sightly different, the characterizations are developed differently, the overall feel and themes of this movie are not quite the same as they were in the cartoon. All of these things are wonderful, actually, and the ‘new’ version of things goes off smoothly and to great effect. The animated film is still a good movie – but this is a different version of Mowgli’s tale, perhaps for a slightly more mature child to explore.
If you’ve seen the film already and you’re curious to know our thoughts on the ‘updates’ and changes made to the 2016 film, lucky for you we recorded our spoilery reactions after we left the movie theatre! Enjoy!
Warning: The audio track contains spoilers! Click to play at your own peril!