The Jungle Book was never one of my favourite Disney movies growing up, not like Peter Pan or Sleeping Beauty was, but I still enjoyed it. The voice actors were good, the songs were nice, not the best Disney’s ever made but still really good, the animation looks great as all main Disney films do, and the story, while not faithful to the book though no Disney film really is, is still enjoyable and interesting. Fun Fact: I grew up with the VHS tapes with the ‘Making of’ documentaries at the end so I got to learn a lot about the making of this movie which I love. It’s why I love behind the scenes stuff and extras on DVDs so much.
The live action remakes so far have been kinda ‘meh’ to me. While I liked Maleficent just fine, it did seem like Disney trying to do Wicked, which they did with Frozen, while also trying to do live action Frozen and less like a live action remake of Sleeping Beauty, again one of my favourite Disney films growing up. I DID like it, just I like Wicked and Frozen, but it does have problems. Cinderella, while pretty looking was just kinda ‘meh’ though I do like that they give the Prince more development than probably any other version has, save maybe Ella Enchanted if you want to call that a kind of Cinderella adaptation…which it is.
So when The Jungle Book was announced, I was a bit sceptical. They got a bunch of celebrities playing CGI animals alongside a live action kid. To be fair, they got a kid who was Indian-American and the trailers looked good enough. Than again, so did the other remakes’ trailers. Honestly, the only reason I wanted to see it was for the sheer spectacle of hearing Christopher Walken sing ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. Don’t lie. You wanted to see that. But then reviews started pouring in that this was a great movie and it was better than the other remakes and this weird combination of the book and animated film, so my interest in the film as whole was peaked.
Little warning: I’ve never read the book or seen the Chuck Jones short which is the most faithful adaptation yet. I’ve seen Jones’s short of Rikki Tikki Tavi, which is in the book, and liked it but that has nothing to do with this movie.
Well, what’s the story? A boy named Mowgli is raised in the jungles of India by a wolf pack and a black panther named Bagheera, played by Ben Kingsley, and he struggles to be a wolf while his instincts are leading him more to using tools like a human, referred to by the animals as “his tricks”. One day, the tiger Shere Khan, played by Idris Elba, returns to the jungle and demands that Mowgli be handed over to him and killed to ensure he never grows up to be a man and thus a threat. Not wanting to endanger the pack, Mowgli decides to leave and Bagheera tries to bring him to the nearby man village while Mowgli wants to stay in the jungle. Along the way he meets all sorts of animals while trying to avoid Shere Khan and find out who he really is.
Again, I’ve never read the book so I don’t know how accurate this is to it, but based on the animated film it’s not a shot by shot remake, there are some changes, but it hits a lot of the same beats. It still has Baloo and ‘Bare Necessities’. It still had King Louie (who was not in the book) and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, and yes, it is exactly as fun to listen to as you thought it would. It still has Kaa and ‘Trust In Me’, though not until the end credits and honestly Scarlett Johansson, while good as Kaa, sounds bored while she’s singing the song. It’s almost like she didn’t know she’d have to sing and did that part at the end of the day when she just wanted to go home and work on her role in Ghost in the Shell. Oh, don’t you worry. We’ll get to that. But it’s still a good performance.
All of the roles, even Christopher Walken and the kid, are very well performed. Especially the kid who basically did the entire film by himself. But the best performances are probably Idris Elba as Shere Khan and Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf mother. Elba has a powerful voice and is able to convey a lot with it: menace, manipulation, anger. This is a great performance done by a great actor. And to anyone who still thinks he’s “too street” to play James Bond, I point you to this and his role as Heimdall in the Thor movies. That’s why. Lupita Nyong’o plays a kind and devoted mother who doing whatever she can to raise and protect her cubs who, while she’s not in a lot of the movie, is able to convey all of this, again, with just her voice. I’m glad this actress is getting more roles as I enjoyed her in The Force Awakens and hope I see her elsewhere.
The only songs from the animated film that aren’t in it are the Vultures’ song, as they don’t speak and they’re not friendly in this film, and the song ‘Home’ sung by the girl at the end. The reason is a spoiler, but given that this film already as a sequel green lit should give it away. Most of the songs are in the end credits anyway, which gives me question as to why they’re in the main film at all. Baloo’s makes sense, he’s pretty carefree and would probably be the type to sing out loud anyway, but King Louie’s makes me scratch my head. It’s the only other song in the film proper, but there’s not really any reason for it other than “It’s King Louie, of course he sings it.” Honestly, it’s pretty much just a nitpick.
The set is amazing, you know it’s impossible for them to have film this in an actual jungle, but it looks like they did. Most of the animals look real too, though some look a bit more…cartoony than the others. Again, it’s a nitpick. Disney’s a master of animation, hand drawn or CGI, especially since they bought Pixar and their teams. The animation and effects still look better than most other films.
True, if you’re a book purist you’re gonna be disappointed, but it’s Disney, I think that’s expected by now. If you wanted the animated film to be closer to the book, this is a good mixture of the two. The good thing about these live action remakes is Disney can take a few risks with live action that they can’t with their famous animated work. People can die, people can get hurt, stakes can be higher, and the problems of the time the animated films were released can be fixed with a modern remake. It’s part of the reason I was both happy and disappointed with Cinderella, the Prince finally got more development, but its main character really didn’t. Sad, considering the animated film was said to be Walt Disney’s favourite. This is not the case with The Jungle Book. While some characters have less screen time than in the animated film, the ones that show up more do get more development and change over the course of the film.
It’s a great movie and is definitely worth your time whether you grew up with the animated film or are seeing the story for the first time.
(Photo via Walt Disney Pictures)