Jon Favreau’s remake of the Disney classic joins a long line of other live-action adaptations of these well-known and famously beloved stories. The Jungle Book features many famous and beloved actors and actresses such as Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Lupita Nyong’o who provide their voices to the gang of unique and interesting jungle creatures. Other than the wonderful voice actors, the movie also introduces the surprisingly talented Neel Sethi in the leading role of Mowgli, the only live-action character (other than a few extras and one miniscule character). Even though this film was filled to the brink with wonderful acting, it was the CGI that really made this film stand out. But! The movie suffered greatly from a lacking plot and some awkward attempts at nostalgia.
CGI has gotten a very bad reputation in the last decade or so and directors seem to be going back to ‘practical-effect’, evident in recent box office booms such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but this movie shows that CGI, when used correctly, can be wonderful. This movie, which is primarily set in the jungle, is surprisingly all created with a computer. Which if you haven’t seen the movie—may be discouraging, but you barely notice. There is though one particular scene (at the climax of the movie) where it is very evident that the jungle setting is made with CGI, but for the rest of the movie you really do not notice. And isn’t that what CGI is for? Making the movie look good without the audience realizing it’s animated.
The CGI in the background is wonderful, but that wasn’t even the best part… The best part was the animation of the animals. The jungle creatures which carry such a large portion of the narrative—simply put—must be well animated, otherwise there is no point is having a live-action version of this film if it just looks like an expensive cartoon. And thank God! These animals looked fantastic! They looked absolutely real, as if it was Discovery Channel footage they had used. But somehow these animals could also portray such mind-blowingly persuasive emotion and personality without having to say anything. One scene that really proved the CGI skills of this talented crew was a scene between Idris Elba’s Shere Khan and Lupita Nyong’o’s Raksha where in one sudden discrete movement by Shere Khan the audience was introduced to the power dynamic and the relationship between the two characters. It is probably also appropriate now to point out the fact that the CGI Shere Khan may very well be one of the greatest cinematic achievements; through miniscule gestures this fierce tiger showed a wide range of emotions and yet managed to remain frightening and elegant.
Other than the wonderful CGI, this movie also had a wonderful cast which was led by Neel Sethi in the role of Mowgli. This being Sethi’s first cinematic performance, he was truly fantastic; he made the character likeable and easy-to-root-for. But there are moments in which you do think that his acting may have been more believable had all the recording not taken place in front of a green screen. Accompanying Sethi, and playing the secondary protagonist, was Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo. And let me just say that I absolutely adored the CGI animation of the loveable character; I loved the fun and clunky voice provided by Bill Murray; I did not like the combination, I thought it was awkward and weird for such a realistic CGI creature to sound so cartoonish. Serving as the straight-faced and sober tertiary protagonist was Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera who may not have stood out significantly, but who does serve as a wonderful compliment to the live-loving Baloo. Kingsley’s voice acting is very believable and—contrary to Baloo—his voice is organic and matches what would be expected. Christopher Walken voices the role of King Louis, the gigantic ape. At first glance this seems like a fairly decent casting choice—not true—this was not a decent casting choice… It was a genius casting choice. Walken voiced the character with such ease and such convincing nuances.
Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito played the adoptive parents of Mowgli, Raksha and Akela. They were both fine… Their roles were fairly small… So they were fine… Yeah. Scarlett Johansson also played a smaller role, that of the snake Kaa. And with all due respect was nowhere close to the performance of Sterling Holloway in the original movie. With the Kaa sequence probably being the weakest part of the film, that had to be mentioned. But the best voice performance was that of Idris Elba as Shere Khan. I have already touched on the magnificence of the CGI work done with Shere Khan but Idris Elba was what made the character pop. Idris Elba put such power and—for lack of better words—oomph into the character. His low growling voice helped make the character frightening and his British voice and proper enunciation made the character seem so excellent and gracious. Simply put: Idris Elba was the best of a (mostly) wonderful cast. He was fantastic!
But the movie was not all good. After watching the film there is a lack of satisfaction, the plot just seems so incredibly thin and lacking. There is one plotline… One very narrow tunnel that has no twists or turns… Basically the same story as the animated movie. The script itself features very good dialogue, but not a whole lot substance. My biggest problem with the movie though, was one awkward scene that was stuffed into the movie: “I Wanna Be Like You” – King Louis’ song. “Bare Necessities” was added in a very natural and seemingly organic manner, but King Louis’ song was very awkward and did not make sense and made me cringe a little.
Overall I did enjoy the film and I do think it has upped the game for future live-action Disney films and it had certainly made me look forward to Beauty and the Beast. It has also made me regain my trust for CGI. It’s not the greatest story or plot, but that’s made up for by the brilliant CGI and voice acting.
Best Aspect- Idris Elba
Worst Aspect- “I Wanna Be Like You”