The Jungle Book (2016)
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Marks
Rating: PG Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min
I must admit, I had my reservations about a live action version of Disney’s Jungle Book adventure. The 1967 animated version may not have been a technical marvel, but it was packed to the gills with great songs and memorable characters. Other than to exploit classic material for new box office gold, I didn’t see a need for this CGI retelling.
So how about this live action nonsense? How does it stack up? Well, for the most part I still prefer the original. While this new version of the story does dazzle with its impressive photorealistic CGI, it’s somewhat let down by odd casting choices. I get that it helps box office returns to shout about the big names in movies like this, but finding the right voice should be more important. Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley and Scarlett Johansson were simply miscast in my opinion. Their star power might put bums in seats (maybe), but their merely adequate turns as Khan, Bagheera and Kaa respectively, pull the film down. It’s not that they did an especially bad job, they just (for me at least) never became the characters. They were just Elba, Kingsley and Johansson reading lines. Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie on the other hand, were a lot of fun to listen to and watch. Newcomer Neel Sethi also does well as Mowgli.
For the first two acts, I questioned this film’s existence. Its photorealistic animals were perhaps a little too lifelike (except for King Louie) and lacked character. That caused me to be less invested in the story, as I found myself getting impatient for the next scene and big reveal. I became more fascinated by how each character in this story would be rendered in the computer, and less interested in the story they were trying to tell.
Beyond the decent voice contributions from Murray and Walken, and the impressive CGI, the films only other saving grace is the action packed finale. As the power players in this tale meet for one last battle, the CGI wizards and Jon Favreau put together a thrilling conclusion to this story.
Expect nods to the original, and some of its songs. This is a meandering ride for the first hour and 25 minutes, followed by an epic conclusion. The Jungle Book is rated PG, so the animal on animal violence isn’t all that graphic (or bloody realistic).
Disney has clearly spent quite a bit of cash on this film, and that is best served on a theater sized screen.
I enjoyed the finale, and Christopher Walken as King Louie.