The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, is a fun and a visually impressive, which from beginning to end is an entertaining watch. However, dominated by CGI, this film does make it difficult for you to fully lose yourself within it. Can the fun, and the slight hint of nostalgia keep you satisfied for the whole film, or is this nothing more than an unnecessary remake of a classic that was already great? Let’s jump into the many elements of the film and see if it all works.
The story in the Jungle Book hasn’t changed and so is pretty well-known, but I’ll give it a quick summary anyway. Mowgli – played by Neel Sethi – is left alone in the jungle as a small boy. Taken in by Bagheera – voiced by Ben Kinglsey – he is raised by wolves and taught the ways of the jungle. However, things become complicated for Mowgli when Shere Khan – voiced by Idris Elba – wants him dead. Mowgli will couple what he has learned and what he instinctively knows, and use them to fight back against not only the threats of the jungle but also the possibility of having to leave it all behind and return to his own kind.
The element of The Jungle Book that I knew I was always going to struggle with was the heavy use of CGI. It is something that is now used a lot in the recent live-action Disney remakes (Maleficent, Pan, the upcoming Tarzan film) and I’m personally not a big fan of it. So what about this film? Well what I will say is that there are definitely some beautiful moments in this film, moments that stunned and made me internally say “wow”. The visual effects are also really impressive – there was a particular moment that caught my eye, where Baloo – voiced by Bill Murray – is swimming in a river with Mowgli and the two are playing back and forth with the water. It was here that I was noticing Baloo’s fur reacting naturally with the water – whether it was flowing with the movement of the water, or being made wet by the water fight, it highlighted the time and the detail that went into trying to make the animals in the film as convincing as possible, which for a film with so much CGI is not only appreciated but necessary.
Here’s the problem. No matter the amount of effort that went into making the animals look as real and as life-like as possible, I never once could get past the fact that these were CGI animals. In fact I could never truly get past the fact that it was a young actor on a sound-stage, acting against people in grey outfits with little tracking balls on them. Despite everything that went into making it all feel as real as possible, I couldn’t connect with the animal characters in any real way, nor could I invest myself or lose myself in the world entirely. There was in a way, a wall between me and the film, and not being able to get over that wall did leave me distant from it all.
That may make it seem like The Jungle Book is a right off then – not the case, and let me explain why. Despite that imaginary wall between me and the film (on a connection level) I was still able to enjoy various elements of the film. One in particular was the voice performances from the eclectic cast of actors, and when I say eclectic I mean it. You’ve got Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito and many more. You can’t make one step in this jungle without hearing a voice you recognise, and all of them deliver some great performances. The two that stood out to me in particular were Bill Murray and Idris Elba. Bill Murray brings a lot of the fun as Baloo (as you’d expect) and he also brings some of the humour that is tailored for the adults who will inevitably be taking their kids to see the film (unless kids are big on propaganda jokes, I don’t know). While Idris Elba brings the tension and the fear as Shere Khan – there is an intensity and fear inducement to his voice, and I can imagine quite a few children will be hiding behind their hands anytime he is on-screen. Now of course all the actors bring something great to the roles they play, but for me, those two in particular were note-worthy.
It’s not all voice acting in the film – leading the film is Neel Sethi as Mowgli. I have to say, for this being Neel Sethi’s first proper on-screen role, the young actor does a good job of not only leading the film, but also acting so convincingly against animals that aren’t there. Now Sethi doesn’t completely nail it – there are 1 or 2 times where his delivery of a line or his facial reactions don’t really match up with the emotion of the scene, but that’s just nit-picking – for the most part, young Neel Sethi does an endearing job as the young Mowgli.
One element of the film that interests me, and is something that kept cropping up as I watched the film, was the overall plot in the film. This adaptation of The Jungle Book is very light on it. To me it felt more like the film was interested in getting to the most well-known moments from the book/animated film and it wasn’t really interested about the bits in-between that connected them together. It was also strange how little time the film took to develop some of the most important characters that it had already set-up so well. Shere Khan is a prime example. It is Shere Khan 101 that he is afraid of fire and that it is his Kryptonite – not in this film. Sure he fears it like any reasonable thing would, but he never shows that crippling fear that is so apparent in other adaptions of the story. This lack of detail does bleed into other characters – Bagheera for example. Apart from being the expository voiceover, there isn’t much else given or known about the character.
I just found it weird that they’ve gone to so much effort to make a new adaptation of The Jungle Book, but not given it the full treatment. Now it doesn’t necessarily harm the film – I think new audiences, who haven’t seen or read the story before will be fine, but for someone like me, it did feel like somethings was missing.
What certainly isn’t missing is Jon Favreau’s ability to direct exciting and well shot action sequences. Whether he is bringing the camera along the tree-tops with Mowgli as he races other wolf cubs, or he is shooting some stunning wide shots as Mowgli battles Shere Khan, while surrounded by the ‘red flower’. This is a film that delights and excites as it plays out. I always felt like I knew what was going on and where the characters were within all the chaos. That’s refreshing to see in such a big budget film where close-up shaky nonsense is usually the norm.
Overall The Jungle Book is an interesting one. For me personally I don’t think it’s a film that I’ll ever want to return to. I have the book and I have the original animated film that I use to watch on repeat as a young lad, so for me I’m set. But I do think that for a new generation of children, who haven’t seen or read this story before, this is a good starting point. It has enough of what made the originals so good that I think parents would be more than happy in sharing this new adaptation with their kids today.
So I’m going to recommend The Jungle Book. With everything in mind and despite some of my personal issues with the film, I still think this film would more than entertain the younger audiences and may also stir-up a little smiley nostalgia in the older audience. One thing is for sure, I’m going to go lookout my old copy of the animated Jungle Book film and give that a re-watch.
I would love to know what you though of any of The Jungle Book films/books. So please feel free to leave a comment down below. If you’d like to keep up on my other ramblings, you could either follow this blog directly, or give me a follow over on Twitter (I’ll even supply a handy link) – @GavinsTurtle. All that’s left to say is have a great weekend and I hope you enjoy some good cinema.