The Jungle Book
Posted April 15, 2016 by Daniel Hodgson in
The Jungle Book is a gorgeous film to look at, but the spectacle of it all overwhelms its only human component, Mowgli, who is absent from many scenes.
2015’s Cinderella is one of Disney’s best films, a lavish spectacle with fine performances and a timeless story. More live-action remakes of the studio’s classic animated films are on the way, such as Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Dumbo, and more. Can they be as good—as great—as Cinderella?
That was my hope going into The Jungle Book. Alas, while the film is an improvement on earlier remakes such as 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2013’s Maleficent, The Jungle Book falls into the same traps as those films, and fails to rise to the example set by the studio’s achievement last year.
The story is essentially the same as the 1967 animated film. Mowgli (Neil Sethi), a boy raised in the jungle by wolves, is forced to leave his home when Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), a tiger with a vendetta against humans, threatens to kill him. Mowgli is escorted to human civilization by Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), a black panther, but they are soon separated, and Mowgli must make the journey on his own.
Along the way, Mowgli encounters a hypnotic python, Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a conniving but friendly bear, Baloo (voice of Bill Murray), and King Louie, a gargantuan Orangutan (voice of Christopher Walken), all of whom are realistic-looking CGI characters, who have expressive eyes and faces.
The background are lush, and the compositions are gorgeous. The film is shot in 3D, used to emphasize the depth of the deep, dark, and dangerous jungle. The Jungle Book is a gorgeous film to look at, but the spectacle of it all overwhelms its only human component, Mowgli, who is absent from many scenes.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. The most unpleasant of my chores is to criticize an actor, especially a child actor, so I’ll put it this way: Nethi is not especially good as Mowgli. His performance is too modern for the material, and he has a tendency to mug.
Although he often feels like a side character in his own movie, The Jungle Book is about Mowgli finding his place in the jungle, despite the fact that he is different from the animals. More broadly, the film is about man finding his place in nature, as represented by Mowgli. Shere Khan believes that Mowgli, that Man himself, is a threat to his environment—and he’s right.
Parents should note that the action in the film is fairly tense for a family film, perhaps too much so for very young or sensitive children. The broad appeal of the film is bound to turn a profit for the studio, which encourages more CGI-heavy spectacles. But part of what made Cinderella so amazing, though, were its real sets and costumes. It was a sumptuous film, tactile, and at the center of it was Lilly James’s outstanding performance. What Disney’s upcoming adaptations fantasies and fairy tales need are the real and the human. 3 out of 5 stars.