Ahh, good ole Disney and its newfound fetish of turning its classic animated films into live-action. Well I guess if the technology can support it, then why not, right? And I gotta say, this film didn’t look half bad. I probably didn’t have too much to compare this to as I haven’t seen any Jungle Book film in ages, and I do mean the animated Disney film as well as the 1994 live-action adaptation…which was also Disney. Anyway, the cast looked downright amazing. Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, and Jon Favreau as the director. There was no reason for this to be anything less than good. My expectations were high, and now that I’ve seen it, it’s time to me to give my honest opinion of THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016).
Raised by wolves since he was an small child, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) lives happily among his new family under the careful watch of his adopted father Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito). However, after a prolonged absence from the jungle, the intimidating tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), whom has a personal vendetta against man, demands Mowgli’s head. Despite being turned away, it is soon decided that Mowgli is no longer safe with the wolves and Mowgli’s panther guardian Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) must return the boy to his rightful people.
First of all, big round of applause for young Sethi, who was outstanding as Mowgli. Considering that he’s probably the only prominent flesh-and-blood actor on set, the credibility of this film kind of weighed on his performance and he nails it in spades. This kid perfectly transitions into every emotion that is brought his way. Sadness when he has to leave his family, anger when there’s revelations, fear when faced with a giant monkey, even sarcastic when he’s confused. This is a kid that’s gonna go places and hope he has a great career ahead of him.
If you haven’t guessed it already, the casting choices are near perfect. Elba’s voice really makes Shere Khan scary. He’s got this cold, calculating patience that sends a chill down your spine. Not only that, but I don’t recall the animated Shere Khan having motivation to kill Mowgli, other than, “I’m suave and cool, and I like to eat man.” In this film, it’s because man injured his face and possibly blind through an eye. He does have a personal vendetta that is a little more relatable other than a glorified bully. Yeah, I do think this Shere Khan is a tad more developed than the ’67 version. Or maybe it’s just Elba’s awesome that adds a little more legitimacy to the character. Either way, damn fun.
Bagheera is definitely the cliche Yoda character that we’ve seen a thousand times, but again, Kingsley just makes him seem so cool. He is about the only grounded character that wants the best for Mowgli and is genuinely concerned with his safety. Also, a Begheera and Shere Khan fight is a thousand kinds of awesome. Those fights get brutal as hell.
Speaking of brutal, this film gets dark. Like… jeez, man. I never read the Rudyard Kipling’s book, so I have no idea what elements in this movie mirror the book, but seeing Shere Khan, you know, actually kill someone was scary. No joke, he savagely attacks Akela and hurls the wolf’s dead body over the ledge of a cliff. Hell, he practically threatens one of the pups of Raksha, played by Lupita Nyong’o. When at any point did that happen in the original animated movie?!
Now I’m going to shift away from the characters and close off the great aspects of this film by talking about the story itself. This is definitely a bigger story than the animated movie. There’s definitely a Lord of the Rings kind of odyssey about it, traveling from one location to another. Not saying that didn’t happen in the original, but it’s a lot more prominent and noticeable in this one.
This also left room for some very cool cinematography. Like when Mowgli first meets Kaa up in the trees, there’s some dark and eerie medium shots. Mowgli is so small in these shots and if you’re not looking for the unnaturally long body of the snake, it blends pretty well into the background. Either way, it’s a pretty unsettling scene. Don’t even get me started on the epicness of the climactic ending fight scene. Lets just say that fire makes everything awesome.
I guess I just managed to squeeze in talking about cinematography. That’s how good this, people! My brain, which is not calibrated to say anything about cinematography, is saying something about the cinematography!
And there’s one of the most standout scenes of the movie. The decision is being made as to what the pack should do with Mowgli. He volunteers to leave and he has to say goodbye to Raksha. This is so heartbreaking to watch. Once again, Sethi drives it home. I got choked up. Sethi looked like he was in genuine emotional pain, being forced to say goodbye to the only family he’s known.
Well, for all the praise I give the film, there are a few missteps.
First of all, Scarlett Johansson. No no, I’m not going to bash her voice acting, she’s fine as Kaa. But why is she stapled so prominently across all of the promos? She’s a glorified cameo. Yeah, she’s only in it for, like, ten minutes! I may not remember Kaa’s role in the original, but I do remember that first encounter with Mowgli and then another scene with Shere Khan. Not in this one. Kaa basically just randomly reveals Mowgli’s past and his connection to Shere Khan. It’s a forced scene and ultimately pointless. Well shot, but it’s just an excuse to have the character.
Baloo is also pretty hit and miss with me. Again, Murray is fine, and does provide some solid humor, but his relationship with Mowgli doesn’t feel very natural. Even forced. Baloo got him to knock down honeycomb and got stung all over. Mowgli is way too forgiving of this, putting him in a great deal of danger, and manages to convince the boy to abandon his protection from going to the man-village. I also love how when Baloo is told that Mowgli is hunted by a tiger, somehow it doesn’t register that it’d be Shere Khan. I mean, it’s not like there’s any other tigers roaming around in the jungle. And as soon as it’s revealed to be Shere Khan, he shows a lot more concern for Mowgli’s predicament. Again, a tiger is a tiger. You’d think Shere Khan or no, messing with a tiger with a vendetta would be pretty high up there on the list of “things not to do.” Baloo knows better than to mess with elephants, but non-Shere Khan tigers? Pfft, buncha glorified pussy cats! See what I’m getting at?
I also think it’s pretty sloppily placed when King Louie starts singing “I Wanna Be Like You.” When Baloo was singing “Bear Necessities” with Mowgli while floating in the river, it made sense for the character because he was shown humming his tune. But this was literally just an excuse to have Walken sing. It… wasn’t even that well done a number, either. Not nearly as flashy and… honestly, I saw this movie just a couple nights ago and I don’t remember what happened. I remember how Mowgli got there, how he met King Louie, what he wanted, and everything after, but not the music number itself. All I could remember was that it was unnecessary.
Also, did anyone catch that he does actually call “the red flower” its proper name, fire? That’s a tad confused, isn’t it? Every other animal calls it “the red flower” but King Louie bounces between both names, mostly calling it the red flower. Why?
Finally, the ending.
This is up there with King Louie’s number. As it is, this next complaint happens right after Mowgli’s tussle with the giant monkey. So Mowgli just found out that Shere Khan killed Akela. In a fit of rage, he sneaks into the nearby man-village to grab a torch of fire. Basically, he carries that sucker all the way back to the beginning of the movie. Erm… how? First of all, how did Bagheera and Baloo not catch up to him? Raised by wolves or no, he’s not faster than a bear or a panther. Just no.
And how did he know how to get back home anyway? Never mind the whole, he’s not of the canine species, so he doesn’t have that instinct, but he ran for his life after his first attack from Shere Khan. He rode along the back of a buffalo. He fell asleep some of that journey on that same buffalo’s back. Then he got carried away by a mud slide and drifted away on a log. Once again, that kid was practically lost. You cannot convince me that he knew his way back home without the guidance of Bagheera. Seriously, a two minute “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Akela, I screwed up, let’s go burn us a kitty” scene, and would have fixed that right up. But no. Mowgli just beats Bagheera and Baloo back home and automatically knew the way. Good job there writers. Hope there’s a deleted scene for that problem in the Blu-ray.
As many problems as there were, especially toward the end, I really liked this movie for the most part. It’s an exciting adventure with some brutal moments, some great voice acting, visuals, and powerfully led by Sethi. I think if you’re a fan of the original ’67 animated movie, you’ll really like this one. I’ve only seen this movie once and would not mind seeing it again.
My honest rating: 4/5