It’s basically impossible to talk about The Jungle Book—the latest live-action/CGI remake from Disney Pictures—without drawing some comparisons to the original 1967 animated classic. The remake tells beat-for-beat the same basic story as the original, with essentially the same characterizations, and even most of the same scenes. If you’ve seen the original—and chances are you have—you know exactly what to expect from The Jungle Book.
Well, even that statement is only half-true. You may know the plot, but you won’t be prepared for the subtle additions by director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) which flesh-out and enhance the narrative. You may think you know characters like Mogli the man-cub, Baloo the bear, and Shere-Khan the tiger, but you have never seen them portrayed with such depth and pathos.
You also may have heard that this new film was shot entirely on a sound stage in Los Angeles, using motion capture and computer-generated images to create the visuals. But you won’t be prepared for just how breath-taking The Jungle Book looks on the big screen.
Mogli (Neel Sethi) is a human child who was left alone in the jungle as a baby. He was discovered by Bagheera the panther (Sir-Ben Kingsley), and raised by wolf-mother Rasha (Lupita Nyong’o). When he’s older he’s targeted by the tiger Shere-Khan (Idris Elba), and so Mogli begins his journey through the jungle towards the man-village where he came from. The story may be very familiar, but as with most stories, the telling is more important than the story itself. This familiar story is told in a creative and engaging way.
When discussing The Jungle Book, you have to start with the visuals. The CGI jungle and motion-capture animals look so real that you need to remind yourself that it’s all just digital effects (or maybe you shouldn’t because that would break the great illusion). The entire voice cast is excellent. The voices match the characters perfectly, and add such weight to the drama.
Special mention goes to Bill Murray, who adds complexity and wit to Baloo the bear, and Idris Elba, who creates a menacing yet sympathetic character with his powerful portrayal of the villainous Shere Khan.
As stated, there’s not a lot of “re” in this remake. The creators have license to the 1967 Disney film as well as the original Rudyard Kipling book. There may be elements of the original in this film that aren’t in the original, but for the most part, The Jungle Book simply expends on the original story, songs and all. When it comes down to it, The Jungle Book is a dramatic story, about a lost boy who’s searching for a home, and an entire jungle that’s out to get him.
The animated film had shades of that dramatic story and character study, but it was too constrained by its meager budget to really delve into the intricate story and character drama.
Favreu’s film realizes the true potential of the original, particularly when it comes to the Mogli character. Mogli is more than just a whiny brat in this version. He’s a clever kid that you as an audience member care about.
This is definitely a film worth seeing, but it’s not without its flaws. For starters, not every update to the story feels necessary, and some seem a little out of place because of how faithful the remake is. They’re not bad elements to the story and characters: they just don’t seem to flow with the narrative. Speaking of feeling out of place, there are too short songs in the movie. They are the two best songs from the animated version, but they don’t quite gel with the more cinematic tone and darker take on the story that The Jungle Book has to offer.
The Jungle Book is a glorious visual spectacle and delightful film that deserves to be seen in the theater.