The Jungle Book is a remake of the 1967 animated movie of the same name, but this time, the film is developed in live action format with CGI effects. It follows the same story of an orphaned human boy, Mowgli, and his adventure in the jungle along with the animals that inhabit the area. For this review, I was initially going to try to not compare the two Disney films, as I would like to treat this remake as a it’s own film. However, I do have to acknowledge the changes this film presents. After watching The Jungle Book, I am happy to say that the changes were minimal and added to the overall world that Mowgli so desperately loves.
Let’s begin with the animation. The setting is colourful, vibrant, and feels fresh. Though beautiful to look at, the jungle acts as an obstacle to the man cub. While watching the film, I pictured myself in Mowgli’s shoes (yes, I know he doesn’t wear shoes) when he travels through the deep jungle. When he runs, I can easily feel his feet stepping on the rough, sturdy tree branches. When he dives into the water, I have a sudden rush of a cold shivering sensation. When he receives cuts on his body, I feel the pain. Whether it’s mud, grass, water, or rocks, I sense Mowgli’s struggle and drive to keep going forward, and the IMAX visual experience helped me put myself in Mowgli’s world.
In terms of the CGI characters, the animators did a fantastic job of crafting these animals to look as real as they can be. The amount of detail in these animals is on a whole other level, from their facial expressions to their animal-like instincts, such as flicking their ears when a fly is buzzing near it.
The casting is beyond outstanding, utilizing actors whose work is not typically associated with voiceover. Ben Kingsley voices the no-nonsense panther, Bagheera, who’s role is to keep the man cub safe from danger. Bill Murray voices the always-hungry, always-sleepy bear, named Baloo, who brings the fun into Mowgli’s life when he needs it the most. His portrayal is quite different from the 1967 version, as he acts sarcastic towards the other characters and initially uses Mowgli solely to get him food, but, this small change works perfectly in this adaptation. Scarlett Johansson voices the seductive snake, Kaa. Her voice was slow, calculating, and manipulative, yet very attractive (I have a huge celebrity crush on her by the way). But the standout star of The Jungle Book has to go to Idris Elba for providing his voice to the main antagonist, Shere Khan. Every time the tiger appears on screen, he commands attention from not only the animals surrounding him, but from the audience in the theatre, and that’s because of his voice alone. Elba’s voice is dark and menacing and I can admit the that he terrified me to death. Shere Khan is one of the most frightening characters that I’ve watched in a long time and one of the best villains of the year so far. Other tremendous performances to watch out for include the voices of Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, and Lupita Nyong’o.
If I could mention one small criticism, it would have to be Neel Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli. He did a good job of playing the brave man cub, but I thought his timing could sometimes be a little off. What I mean by that is there were certain scenes in the film where Mowgli could’ve expressed more emotion through his face and overall body language. Besides that, he was nearly perfect. I just thought that he had the potential to create more drama with his performance. I’m sure he’ll do an even better job in the possible sequel.
Now, for the changes between this 2016 film and the 1967 version. Besides Baloo’s character being slightly adjusted, the 2016 film brought a new element to the jungle. Without spoiling anything, they created a way to bring all animals together during peace that not only becomes a law in the jungle, but creates tension between Shere Khan and the rest of the animals which drives the story forward. Another part of the story that was altered was the ending. Though it was a good twist, I wished they would’ve stuck with the original ending as it would better lead up to a sequel.
Even though it is a bit darker, The Jungle Book is just as good as the first Disney adaptation. It is worth watching based on its stunning visuals and excellent voice acting. Some changes felt like added bonuses and others could have been left out. Either way, the criticisms are just me nitpicking and I urge everyone to go see this film.