‘The Jungle Book’ a respectful reboot with modern-day flare
For me, when it comes to Disney classics, there are old-school movies like Snow White or Pinocchio, and there are ’90s hits like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Originally released in 1967, The Jungle Book falls into a sort of gray area between the two. Sure, we all watched it on VHS as children, but it wasn’t as iconic as its predecessors or the computer-assisted mega hits that came after it, so it seemed the most ripe for revival in the form of a CG-filled reboot. Thankfully, Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book keeps all the spirit of a great Disney movie while letting the technology shine with superb CG.
You know the story: Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a “man cub” who was found in the jungle by Bagheera the panther (Sir Ben Kingsley) and raised by a pack of wolves (Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha and Breaking Bad alum Giancarlo Esposito as Akela) in the jungle. As he gets older, it becomes more obvious to everyone that he’s not like the other cubs. This catches the attention of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a tiger who has had enough run-ins with mankind to know that they’re bad news. He threatens the wolf pack and insists that the boy must leave or die. Bagheera, being the protective father-figure he is, decides that the best course of action is to return Mowgli to the human village, despite the boy’s objections. And so begins a journey through the jungle in which Mowgli encounters all sorts of anthropomorphic animals, from the lovable slacker Baloo (Bill Murray) to the hungry snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) to the resident gangster King Louie (Christopher Walken).
First and foremost, The Jungle Book is visually stunning. The environments are rich and detailed, and the depth of field really comes alive in 3D. The animals are rendered perfectly, expertly tackling the challenge of being both realistic and exhibiting more human qualities, like speech. Shere Khan is a wonderful mix between Richard Parker (Life of Pi) and Scar from The Lion King. The wolf pack looks believable—unlike the wolves in a certain teenage vampire franchise—and Raksha, in particular, is expressive and gorgeous. In the old days of Disney, characters were drawn to slightly resemble the celebrities who voiced them, and that remains true here, with Baloo and King Louie in particular bearing a definite resemblance to Murray and Walken.
While the story is simple, the performances are engaging, with newcomer Sethi bringing tons of heart and just the right amount of adorable to the performance. Scenes with Mowgli and Baloo are particularly sweet, making you wonder just how this kid played so well off of whatever green screen shape they had prior to rendering the bear. Walken’s take on Louie is very different from Louie Prima in the original film, but I appreciated the direction he took it, making King Louie more outwardly menacing in a scene where he basically makes Mowgli an offer he can’t refuse.
The only complaint I have with the movie is that the music feels a bit shoehorned in. It’s almost like they had the whole film ready to roll and realized they still hadn’t ticked off the “Bare Necessities” or “I Wanna Be Like You” boxes, so they made sure to cram them in at the end. While both of those songs are iconic and catchy, they feel a little out of place here because there are no prior musical numbers to set this up as a place where people just burst into song. Kaa’s song “Trust in Me” is cut entirely and only appears during the end credits, which might have been a wiser choice for the other two songs as well.
Still, The Jungle Book is a well-executed reboot that captures the spirit of the original while dazzling with modern day graphics, and for that reason, it’s worth the price of admission.