By Darin Skaggs
There have been a large array of live action Disney movies that were retellings of their classic animated films of the past. In the mediocre Maleficent took a look at a new perspective putting the villain in the forefront and giving her motivation and sympathetic conflict. The absolute wonderful Cinderella made the same story with a feminist point of view as well as a look at what it takes to be a good person. Sometime next year a live action Beauty and the Beast is planned to be released. In John Favearu’s The Jungle Book, the movie finally lives up to the expectations of what was anticipated when these retellings were announced. It is just a simple rehash of the classic Disney tale, with not much more to add except a look at equality and propaganda to keep the environment safe.
This is a near beat for beat retelling of the old Disney story with a few different beats here and there. A black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) finds a young baby in the jungle. When we meet him, he is a young boy named Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi) and he is being raised by wolves. He finds himself determined to fit in with them despite being a man cub. A water drought drains the water hole which allows a peace truce to let all kinds of animals come together without fighting to take a drink. This is where the monstrous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) comes and threatens to take down the man cub when the water rises and the truce is lifted. Left with no choice Bagheera escorts him to where the humans live to ensure his safety. On the way little Mowgli finds himself having many adventures and encountering many animals like the seductive snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the lovable friendly bear Baloo (Bill Murray).
Mowgli meets those characters and more, all we know mostly from the animated film from before. All of them are top notch vocal performances. The low point here is Sethi, who does pretty well honestly. Some line deliveries do not totally work, but it is no travesty here. He is good. Christopher Walken plays the ginormous narcissistic orangutan King Louie. He plays him as a sad character, but also one who gives off terror that puts fear in anyone who crosses him, most of all his hundreds of slave monkeys. He also gets to sing his song we all know and love. It’s odd hearing Walken sing that beloved song, but for some reason it works. Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o play Mowgli’s adoptive wolf parents and are great for the little they are given. Murray is pretty good, the lines he is given are not all that funny, but his line reading makes some of the bad lines actually humorous. Ben Kingsley is fatherly, comforting and peaceful all through his voice. Idris Elba is amazing here, he gives one of his best performances. He nails the character perfectly, along with the look of him. He is genuinely terrifying as he quietly but confidently threatens our young hero and when he does become angry and out of control it makes you even more scared for the safety of the characters.
The voice acting is tremendous and the story is just fine, but what really makes this movie worth a watch is the visuals. It looks so good, you feel like Bagheera is really there watching over Mowgli, Baloo is giving a raft ride and that Shere Khan is really climbing a tree to find and kill his young prey. It is all absolutely stunning. All around the board the visuals are amazing from the CGI to the production design. It looks like Sethi is running through the real jungle interacting with live animals. It does what a movie is supposed to, make you forget you are watching a movie and get lost in what you see on screen. Thought that is true visually, the script does not fully reach that potential. The “I Want To Be Like You” song works because it is weird, but the songs being shoehorned into the movie seem out of place for the live action remake. We get teased over and over with the “Bare Necessities” tune, but there are no other songs. The filmmakers could not fully commit to having this be a musical or not. It just seems like fanfare, granting some people’s wish for being reminded of one of their favorite Disney classics. The movie looks wonderful, the acting is incredible and yet the story is the low point. The Jungle Book is worth the watch, but no amazing feat.