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Movie Review: The Jungle Book

Return to the jungle this spring with The Jungle Book. Image used from ew.com

Return to the jungle this spring with The Jungle Book. Image used from ew.com

For over seventy years, there have been numerous film adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the most famous being the 1967 animated musical made by Disney. After starting a new stint on recreating their classics as big budgeted live action films (starting with the visually and thematically interesting Maleficent), Disney has decided to try their hand at a new adaptation of the classic story. Will it branch out and be something new, or will it be a reheated tale we’ve heard once before?

The story for The Jungle Book follows the same main premise of the the 1967 film with many similar plot points yet still manages to feel different and tries new things. The story follows Mowgli, a young boy who was raised in the jungle by wolves. One day he’s found by the man hating tiger Shere Khan and must be delivered to the man village where he’ll be safe lest Shere Khan kills him. Though constantly hitting all the major plot points The Jungle Book still manages to be different by taking it’s time throughout to build upon the world and elaborate on certain details such as Mowgli’s knack for making tools and inventions to help himself as well as his relationship with his wolf family, the latter of which makes for one well made scene that had me in tears and so early into the film as well. The film manages to create a new sense of dread and urgency as it will venture into darker territories that are often times unnerving but also transitions easily into lighter moments of well made and executed humor and a second act that feels like comedic padding yet still works in the grand scheme of things by continuing to build upon it’s characters. Because of this the film manages to do a fine job of blending it’s darker and lighter moments for a well balanced story. Though having a massive budget and visuals galore The Jungle Book doesn’t rely solely on those to sell itself to it’s audience and instead chooses to create a different take on the 1967 film with great success. If there’s anything about it that I could criticize, and honestly that is a rather difficult task, it would be two songs that are shoehorned into the film just because they’re well known. They’re not bad but the problem is that they feel out of place not to mention the film doesn’t even commit to using them all the way through.

The characters for The Jungle Book are well made

Mowgli is well made in this film. It’s easy to sympathize and side with him from the start, being happy in his home and with his family despite being different. An interesting take this film does with the character is his use of tools which he crafts on the spot to make his life easier. It’s interesting to see because it makes for more of a personality and character for Mowgli as well as some decent conflict with other animals stating he can’t do that because he should “be a wolf”. Like the film itself Mowgli is both similar and different from his original counterpart.

Bagheera is an enjoyable character that serves as out narrator and mentor to Mowgli. He’s a kind soul who only wants to protect Mowgli but also help create some conflict in the film through his disapproval of Mowgli’s tools.

Baloo is an immensely fun character who initially serves as our comedic padding. It’s all jokes, games and strange moment of singing at first but he’s quick to grow and develop as a character and is balanced in both humor and more serious moments creating a dynamic character.

Shere Khan is more malevolent and cruel in this film. There’s just no other way to put it, he’s the animal equivalent of a violent psychopath, being calm  and in control one moment and the next just pure rage and violence. He’s incredibly intimidating and though not having any depth to his character is still a fine villain for the film.

Acting for The Jungle Book is well done by the entire cast

Neel Sethi does a splendid job as Mowgli. In his debut as an actor Sethi does very well, taking to the character of Mowgli and  being incredibly convincing throughout especially in his dramatic moments. The funny thing is that it doesn’t even seem like he’s trying to act, it seems as if he’s jsut acting like a kid and in this film that’s all he needed for his first great performance.

Ben Kingsley does very well as Bagheera. He manages to come off as an authority figure as well as a caring person, or animal as it were. However oftentimes his performance seems rather off. He reads his lines far too quickly at certain points which makes it seem like he’s trying to get through something as quickly as possible. But moments like those are few and far between and overall Kingsley still does a fine job.

You couldn’t have found a better actor then Bill Murray to play Baloo. Murray is an absolute riot in this film, mostly because he acts like himself making for a more authentic performance. Murray is not only funny but manages to be endearing throughout the film and is just an absolute delight from start to finish.

Idris Elba has proved over the years what an amazing and versatile actor he can be. In one film he’s a strong and likable hero and the next he’s a terrifying villain and when it comes to the latter he’s done none other that was more chilling then his performance as Shere Khan. Elba is cold and cruel and every single line of dialogue just oozes with venom and viciousness. From time to time I would forget that it was Elba and only saw a blood thirsty tiger.

Lupita Nyong’o gives an astounding performance as Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf mother. Nyong’o is absolutely captivating in her role managing to give an unbelievably moving performance early in the film and manages to be engaging whenever her role comes up.

Disappointingly Giancarlo Esposito doesn’t have much to do in the film, in fact he’s gone after the first act of the film. It’s a shame because like Nyong’o he’s very engaging and gives a fantastic performance as the wolf leader Akela and once he’s gone his presence is missed.

Scarlett Johansson feels entirely out of place as Kaa. She’s in the film very briefly so she too hasn’t much to do but what little we do get feels off when compared to the rest of the cast. It’s clear she’s in this film because she’s friends with the director Jon Favreau so having a role makes sense but it still just rubs me the wrong way.

Christopher Walken as King Louie, another really odd choice, is enjoyable in his brief role, honestly it’s impossible for Walken not to be enjoyable. However there’s one out of left field moment with Walken and that’s when he has to sing “I Wanna Be Like You” because firstly it’s Christopher Walken singing and secondly the way King Louie looks from his gigantic appearance to emotionless, stand offish face makes the whole thing rather uncomfortable.

Lastly the visuals for The Jungle Book are wonderfully made. The sets are mostly entirely CG yet still look very good with their vibrant array of colors, strong, pleasant greens and cast of diverse and unique characters. The designs of the animal characters is, for the most part, done very well. Most of the animals look almost realistic with the wolves coming closest to looking like actually wolves. In fact every so often I had to look carefully because I honestly believed that some of them were actual animals. However, there are some that do come off as looking rather cartoonish, though I must admit that does add to the overall charm of the film, and the rendering on Baloo could have been better but otherwise the visuals are very well made and pleasing to the eyes.

Final Thoughts: The Jungle Book is, overall, a very good film. The story is similar to the 1967 version but instead of sticking closely to that this version opts to build upon things and crafts an entirely different and unique story. The story is engaging, the characters are well made, the acting is extraordinary and the visuals are astounding. It’s a well made film, one that would be entertaining to children and adults alike.

Verdict: 4.5/5

About the Author

Good day to you, my name is Jonathan Gonzalez. For years I've loved movies and have been reviewing them for years, ever since I first saw Roger Ebert on Ebert and Roeper during my freshman year of high school for the first time. I am a graduate of Mercy College with a Bachelor's in Journalism and I have Asperger's Syndrome, something I am truly proud of.

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