Jungle Book Review
Here I go again! I still have some every so this review might be long as well. I saw Jungle Book before I saw Civil War but I was so excited for Civil War I decided to write that one up first.
As most of you know, the Jungle Book is based off of the 1967 Disney film of the same name and that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of stories. The particular story here in 2016 follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as he journeys through the jungle in his quest to return to his village. He is forced to leave the wolf pack that raised him when threatened by the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Alba). Bagheera (Ben Kinsley) is his guide to the man village. On his way there, Mowgli is separated and befriends a Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). Mowgli now begins to question why he must leave which causes conflict with Shere Khan.
So let’s get this out of the way: visually this film is surreal. It’s easy to get lost in the visuals and forget that all of it was filmed in a studio behind a green screen. This jungle and the animals in it was real. The detail in the water was perfect. In college I was taking a 19th century European history class; we were examining some of the art during that time and one of the things the professor said was how hard it is for artists to paint water. Getting water to look realistic is just about impossible. Well, Jungle Book and the CGI artists made that water look so flawless and real. The point is that this film has pushed what studios can do with CGI and how realistic we can make it look. The animals looked so real and so stunning it made this world real.
Now, let’s get to Sethi’s performance. This kid had to act with little to no actual props or other actors. For that, this kid did great. The kid was super impressive on that end; I would say one weakness were the delivery of some of his lines were really distracting and can take people out of the film. Yet I walked away thinking “this kid is amazing.” Now, hopefully this kid doesn’t fizzle out. This kid has a bunch of potential and hopefully he gets plenty of work in his career.
You know who else did really well? EVERYONE. Ben Kinsley brought such a stoic and presence to Bagheera. It was wonderful to see him perform in this role. Bagheera really came off as a mentor and as an elder statesman in this film. His advice, his movements and his ability to set aside personal feelings for what makes logical sense made him a very compelling character. Bill Murray was so charming as Baloo; Murray was perfectly cast for this incarnation of the bear. He had a tough outside and a soft inside that made us all love him. His motivations start off selfish but he eventually bonds with the kid that when he decides to fight Shere Khan in the finale, I felt goosebumps.
I would say a huge strong piece about this film was that when Mowgli left the wolves, we still saw the impact of that. There was an emotional connection and the mother of the wolves, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), was strong and wanted to find another way to keep Mowgli. However, Khan’s power was too much.
Now I put off Khan’s performance because, well, Alba made him absolutely terrifying. There was a calm rage to Khan; you could tell people were scared but this was a character that when he whispered or got quiet, that’s when you worry. Khan was a smart and powerful villain. This was best illustrated when Khan quickly and powerfully killed the leader of the wolf pack, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), he was terrifying because he was in total control. Khan was legitimately scary in this film; you can’t say that about the famous animated movie. In the animated film, Khan was a goofy scary villain; in this film, he was just scary. The impact of the voice and the actions of Khan made him to be a fantastic and definitive Disney villain. The character also had legitimate motivations to see Mowgli dead.
Everyone else was great. I thought that King Louie (Christopher Walken) was so entertaining (and also frightening). When Louie sang the famous song from the animated film actually felt like it fit. Actually, all the songs were great tributes to the animated film and yet the songs did not feel shoe-horned in. They felt natural and while they were a great throwback, they also fit so well in this that I feel a new generation will associate those famous songs to this film. I think limiting to just Louie and Baloo (Bare Necessities) gave enough of a tribute and satisfied the hardcore animated fans.
This film was just filled with fun but with stakes. The voice acting was superb. So, what are the faults of this film? I would say Kaa’s (Scarlett Johansson) role was surprisingly minimal. I was expecting a bigger role because of Kaa’s role in the animated feature. But Kaa had less screen time than Spider-Man in Civil War. Kaa was there, then I guess she died? It was unclear if Baloo really killed Kaa.
Overall, this film was so much fun and had so much heart. Jon Favreau really nailed this one out of the park. It was full of great visuals; it pushed the boundaries for CGI. The voice acting was great, Mowgli was an engaging character, the tributes to the animated film were tasteful and it was a deeper film than the animated one. It was a great film and I cannot wait to get this on Blu-Ray or DVD.
However, there were some pacing issues, Mowgli’s acting went in and out for me and use of Kaa was disappointing.
Rating: Spend 2x as much money to see it