The Jungle Book (2016)
Disney is king of the jungle this year. Between its animated joy Zootopia, the live action reimagining of The Jungle Book, and the upcoming Captain America/Avengers foray, the company has/will stampede critics and the box office in 2016. As unnecessary as I personally believe they are, live action adaptions of classic animated tales seem here to stay – we’ve already seen Oz, Wonderland and Cinderella’s slipper in 3D, among others. However, while it can’t be denied The Jungle Book is a triumph of CGI, the film can’t find solid ground between its classic cartoonish predecessor and the more serious tone it strives for. Ultimately, this version of Bare Necessities is barely necessary.
That’s not to say the movie is completely without merit. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie follows the animated classic’s tale and adds believable CGI and gorgeous cinematography to the checklist. Almost every character and setting is digitally rendered, but it didn’t matter because the screen is consistently packed with beautiful details. Favreau highlights the natural beauty of this highly unnatural jungle, laying forth the movie’s central argument for its place in the Disney lineup.
The story is more or less modeled after the classic. Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi with great physicality) is raised by a pack of wolves as one of their own, until tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) threatens to kill the ‘man cub’ for being, well, a man cub. Leaving the pack of wolves that raised him, Mowgli embarks on a sprawling adventure through the jungle, assisted by Bagheera the black panther and Baloo the bear (Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray).
The cast is unanimously stellar, particularly Scarlett Johansson as the hypnotic, completely underused python Kaa. Murray is a perfect match for the notoriously laid back bear, adding much-needed humor to the film’s self-seriousness. Elba’s Shere Khan is notable for being a truly frightening villain commanding of screen presence. Justin Marks’ screenplay gives him unpredictability that makes us truly fear for furry characters we would have assumed would be invincible in standard Disney tales.
Still, the humor and seriousness in the film never mesh well. When Mowgli ends up in the temple of King Louie (a massive orangutan voiced by Christopher Walken), it’s one of the most intense moments of the movie… until, quite suddenly, King Louis starts to sing. Sure, his song I Wanna Be Like You is a classic, but its presence in the film underscored just how goofy the premise is. The film tries to be more mature than it is, because it’s ultimately just a recoloring of a classic childhood tale. To me, this raises the question of why exactly the movie is being remade in the first place.
The year is already packed with animal-centered releases (the superior Zootopia was released in March, and Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets is coming in July). In spite of both these movies being animated, or more likely because of it, I think The Jungle Book will end up being the goofiest of the three, and not in a good way.
The Jungle Book is a mostly solid piece of pop culture that will be swept under the rug and completely forgotten in a few months. By itself, the movie is good, and tries to be nothing else. That’s the problem with all of Disney’s live action adaptions of animated classics – they don’t try to be as good as the classics. They just try to be ‘good.’ Ultimately, this is why I believe these live action adaptations are entirely unneeded. Why retell a tale that has almost nothing new to say? To paraphrase King Louis; classic movie, I wish this version was more like you. Oobee doo.