Rating: B/ I guess I’ll start of by saying I have no particular affinity with the 1967 animated version of this movie; I’m not even sure I ever saw it, though I suspect I must have at some point. Having no memory of the animated film and having never read the book by Rudyard Kipling, I had no sentimental bias holding me back from liking this CGI-filled, celebrity voice actor- starring remake. It’s sometimes hard to let go of your nostalgic feelings for an original, but I had none of those going into this film. I think that’s very important; obviously this is going to be a very different animal from the animated original, and if you go in with hard feelings towards this movie and remakes in general you’re not going to enjoy it much.
I did enjoy Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s a good, solid bit of fun, and it tells a good story, albeit one that’s been told before. It’s easy to forget that the whole thing is shot on a green screen with one onscreen cast member (Neel Sethi as Mowgli) when the whole thing looks so damn beautiful. It has everything you would want from a big budget Hollywood blockbuster; humor, thrills, a little pathos, and a visually astonishing layout. If there is one tiny criticism I’d give it would be that the lead child actor is less than stellar, which takes from the enjoyment of the movie somewhat because he’s the only actor who lends his physical presence rather than just his voice. However, the big-name actors voicing the animals are delightful. I for one couldn’t have come up with a better voice of Baloo than the appealing Bill Murray.
Mowgli (Sethi) is a boy raised by wolves who had grown up in the jungle since infancy. The serious, watchful panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) is his mentor, but a mother wolf (Lupita Nyong’o) does 90% of the heavy lifting when it comes to raising him to manhood. However, there is one animal in the jungle who doesn’t take kindly to the ‘man cub”s presence; the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba,) who knows that Mowgli will grow into a man and believes that men are, by nature, volatile monsters. Shere Khan promises to kill members of the jungle community systematically and senselessly until the wolves get rid of Mowgli. The pack reluctantly complies, sending Mowgli to live with his fellow humans, but Shere Khan has something a bit more permanent in mind. Cast adrift in the jungle, Mowgli experiences a series of harrowing adventures that leave him determined to reclaim his place among the animals he considers his family.
Ingratiating characters and a charming story make this a hit for kids and adults alike, and the dependence on CGI visuals aren’t nearly as distracting as you’d think they’d be. There are some changes made to the more questionable elements of the original, with Christopher Walken giving the bullying orangutan King Louie an inflection that will no doubt prove to be more palatable for many than his jive-talking precursor. While certainly not a game-changer (and only one of many CGI-filled remakes of Disney classics put out within the last few years,) The Jungle Book has a big heart and there’s a lot of fun to be had with the crazy situations Mowgli gets into and out of using both his human ingenuity and the strength his animal friends have instilled in him.