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The Jungle Book – Movie Review

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The Jungle Book – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

With Disney’s recent trend of taking inspiration from their animated catalogue for their live-action productions, it’s been a mixed bag. However, to their credit, each one is different in their approach. 101 Dalmatians remade the animated film as a John Hughes slapstick comedy, while Maleficent focused on the iconic villain of Sleeping Beauty by re-writing her as a hero. Cinderella is the strongest of these, mainly because Kenneth Branagh did his own adaptation of the classic fairy tale with only occasional references to the animated classic sprinkled in. Jon Favreau takes the opposite approach with The Jungle Book by redoing the animated film with state-of-the-art computer animation with a couple of elements from Rudyard Kipling’s original story thrown in for good measure. As technically impressive as the effort is, the whole film feels a tad hollow.

What immediately stands out about this version are the special effects. Aside from Mowgli and one other human character, the entirety of the cast and environments has been created on the computer. One could legitimately classify this as an animated feature. It’s quite breathtaking and it’s unbelievable Favreau and his crew did not film it on location in the jungles of India. The animals are extraordinarily realistic, yet when they talk, it does not appear jarring. A lot of credit also goes to Mowgli’s actor Neel Sethi, who believably gives the impression he is interacting with these animals. He also handles the more dramatic scenes along with the lighthearted moments and makes for a likeable Mowgli.

The voice cast for the animals is perfectly chosen. While they serve as a who’s who of celebrity names, each bring a unique flavour to their respective character. Bill Murray is fitting as the slacker bear Baloo and Idris Elba brings the necessary menace to Shere Kahn. Scarlett Johansson is a surprising choice for Kaa, but she manages to develop a different and weirdly sensual take on this massive slithering snake. Lupita Nyong’o might be the strongest member of the ensemble as Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mother, displaying a kindhearted and protective quality in the pack’s matriarch. There is also a fair amount of amusement gained from Christopher Walken’s rendition of King Louie’s catchy tune “I Wanna Be Like You.”

However, watching this version of The Jungle Book feels like viewing an expensive animation test. Upon watching Baloo and Mowgli sing “The Bare Necessities”, does it produce smiles because of the imagery on-screen or because of nostalgic remembrances for the animated classic? Most of the film consists of a series of action set-pieces tied together. Wolfgang Reitherman’s adaptation of The Jungle Book was certainly episodic, but the sequences combined seamlessly to create a strong narrative. This feels like a product of somebody taking advantage of the resources to recreate the hand-drawn imagery of the animated film. As a result, it comes across like a pointless exercise with little reason to exist. Looking past the impressive special effects, there’s little emotional investment in the adventure.

With the technology available to tell a story with fully talking animals, why go through the trouble of animating The Jungle Book again? This version borrows so much from the earlier film adaptation, it renders this new film pointless and not particularly exciting to boot. Why not create something new or craft a more faithful adaptation of Kipling’s book? It seems unfair to compare this Jungle Book to an earlier incarnation, but with the amount of quotes and its frequent tugging at nostalgic heart strings, it’s unavoidable. This is a forgettable redoing of the material with nothing new to say or add and just makes one want to watch the classic hand-drawn animation of its inspiration for the hundredth time.

Stefan Ellison

The Scene