Seems like the House of Mouse can do very little wrong these days. In the midst of its Marvel and Star Wars ownership, its own properties have been feeling a bit neglected, and this is the second year in a row (after last year’s Cinderella) that we’ve gotten a really solid new rendition of an old classic tale. And this live action version of The Jungle Book does all the right things to improve on the “original” animated film.
First of all, the casting is perfect. From Idris Elba as the bloodthirsty Shere Khan, to Bill Murray’s goofy but loyal Baloo, to Ben Kingley’s severe but kind Bagheera, the voices fit their roles perfectly. The best of them all might be Christopher Walken, who brings a bit of mob boss to King Louie. Neel Sethi, virtually the only human actually onscreen, turns in a great performance as Mowgli, especially considering he was working with CGI backdrops and characters the entire time.
Director Jon Favreau and company do a great job of flushing out the story without changing the essentials. He does this mostly by drawing in more of Rudyard Kipling’s original novels. Ikki the porcupine plays a key role in the story, King Louie mentions the Bandar Log (his kingdom of monkeys and apes), and we see a cobra and hear talk of a mongoose, which could have been references to the famous Rikki Tikki Tavi story, also from Kipling’s set of jungle tales. Grey Brother appears, instead named “Grey,” and the elephants are portrayed as the rulers and masters of the jungle, like Kipling intended.
The different species of animal have also been defined more specifically, both in name, and in look, than in the cartoon. Baloo is a sloth bear, and King Louie, rather than being an orangutan, a species who never really existed in India, is a Gigantopithecus, a giant ape from millions of years ago. This accounts for the change in Louie’s size.
Speaking of Baloo, he’s really the star of the show. When he first appears, the film, which takes a while to get moving, seems like it’s headed towards the Batman v Superman school of filmmaking, with a bunch of establishing scenes that don’t really go anywhere. To be fair, we hear the real history of Shere Khan’s hatred of man from Kaa, but Baloo really saves the day, in more ways than one. Not only does his appearance allow things to settle from a pacing standpoint, but he’s a much stronger character than in the animated film. Although he’s still a bit lazy (he is a sloth bear after all), he and Bagheera are on more equal footing. Baloo is the one who comes up with a plan to rescue Mowgli, and he’s just as quick to jump into action as Bagheera and the wolves. In fact, when Shere Khan returns to kill Mowgli, it’s Baloo that leads the charge against the tiger.
Finally, it’s really the moments of nostalgia that put this film over the top. Baloo and King Louie get to sing their trademark hits: “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” The themes from these two songs are worked into the score as well, and the songs fit into the film and don’t seem out of place. All in all, this new endeavor is a welcome adventure back into the jungle, and even ends with an awesome, much needed twist that differs from the animated film. The CGI is a little off at some points, but not enough to really ruin anything. And make sure you stay and watch the credits! King Louie returns to deliver a complete version of his song that’s really a blast to watch.
Final Grade: 4 out of 5 stars.
(The remainder of this post is the usual weekly TWIC features.
Where do They Come From?
Only wide release films count towards these numbers.
- The Jungle Book: Ok, I’m not sure to classify this as an adaptation or a remake. I’m going to say remake. While it is based on Kipling’s works, it is based more on the original animated film.
- Barbershop: The Next Cut: Obvious sequel is obvious.
- Criminal: Original. Written by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg.
These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY.
This weekend’s releases not included.
They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.
DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.