ben kingsley, bill murray, christopher walken, disney, film review, garry shandling, giancarlo esposito, idris elba, jon favreau, lupita nyong'o, movie review, neel sethi, scarlett johansson, sherman brothers, the jungle book, walt disney
You all know my feelings regarding these live-action remakes that Disney is doing of their animated films: I’m against them in principle, but if a film happens to be good, I’ll admit to it being so. Having said that, there were only 2 planned Disney remakes that didn’t irk me; I actually was somewhat open towards. One of them happened to be the subject of today’s review: The Jungle Book.
Directed by Jon Favreau, I felt that The Jungle Book was a book that had been adapted many times already, so I didn’t feel that this would be a remake of the 1967 animated film, per se. But, that doesn’t stop me from pointing out the differences between that film and this film. Without further ado, let’s take a look at this 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie begins with some incredible visual graphics during the opening credits which already has me won over in that department!
After that, we hear narration from the panther, Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley. In this film, all the animals are computer-animated (with maybe some performance capture mixed into it) and talk via moving lips.
He starts telling us the story of how he found the man-cub Mowgli, played by Neel Sethi, in the jungle when he was a baby. He decided that Mowgli needed a “people” to raise and take care of him, so he left Mowgli with a wolf family. This results in Mowgli growing up like one of the wolves except with “human tricks”, such as bipedal running, creativity, and ingenuity.
This particular year, there’s a dry season going on and one of the few places available for drinking water is a watering hole located near a formation known as Peace Rock. This means that a Water Truce is on and that all animals, predators and prey, can drink in peace without worrying about any harm happening.
One such animal who happens to be at the watering hole is the tiger, Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba. He’s been away for a while and is angered to know that a man-cub lives amongst the animals as he hates man. He was once burned by one which caused him to hate man and fear fire. So, Shere Khan warns that once the Water Truce is off and the rains come again, something should be done regarding Mowgli or else.
When the rains finally come, the wolves hold a meeting with Bagheera discussing what should be done regarding Mowgli. They know that the wolves have been the only family to Mowgli all these years, but they also know that Shere Khan will try to kill Mowgli if he remains in the jungle. The debate ends when Mowgli himself volunteers to leave the wolves so that nobody will get hurt. Mowgli says his final goodbyes to his “wolf mom”, Raksha, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o and then accompanies Bagheera who is in charge of getting Mowgli to the man-village.
And oddly after a few minutes, Mowgli seems surprised to know that Bagheera is taking him to the man-village! So, did Mowgli just volunteer to leave the wolves and move in with another animal family in the jungle? I’m not too sure what Mowgli thought was going to happen.
Along the way, Shere Khan sneak attacks Bagheera and Mowgli. Mowgli manages to escape amidst a group of stampeding buffaloes to a place where he and Bagheera pre-arranged to meet.
After that, Shere Khan heads back to the wolves (after Bagheera escapes from him) and tells the wolves how he wanted them to give Mowgli to him instead of getting Mowgli out of the jungle. He then kills the wolf pack leader, Akela, voiced by Giancarlo Esposito. His plan is that this news will soon reach Mowgli and he’ll want revenge on Shere Khan, so he decides to just wait there for Mowgli to come back.
Here is where we see some of the differences between this film and Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film. In the animated film, Shere Khan is a hunter w/a “looking for a challenge” kind of mentality stalking Mowgli. In this film, he’s a bit more subdued and planning in that he waits for Mowgli to come to him instead! Does this make him a smarter and more conniving Shere Khan? No, I don’t necessarily think so; it’s just a different type of Shere Khan that is interesting to see.
Meanwhile, Mowgli has gotten lost in the jungle after some floods come washing him away from the buffaloes. He soon finds himself being hypnotized by a seductive-sounding snake, Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She gives an incredible vocal performance getting Mowgli all tied up in her coils. She also tells him some of his backstory and we learn that his father was killed by Shere Khan and was the one who burned Shere Khan’s face. Right before Kaa can eat Mowgli, an animal interferes and attacks Kaa…and that’s the last we see of her.
Mowgli got knocked unconscious during the scuffle. After he wakes up, we see him in a cave with a bear, Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray. Baloo was the one who saved Mowgli from Kaa and now wants Mowgli to do something for him: climb some dangerous cliffs to get some honey for him. Mowgli uses his “human creativity” to get this done and Baloo asks if he can help him get more honey until wintertime. Mowgli agrees (having somewhat forgotten about Bagheera) and he and Baloo become friends even singing the famous song, The Bare Necessities.
After some time passes, Bagheera finally catches up to Mowgli with the latter happy to see him. But, the good mood is spoiled when Bagheera tells Mowgli that he still has to go to the man-village. In order to persuade Mowgli, Bagheera enlists Baloo’s help since he know the man cub will listen to Baloo. So Baloo pretends to not ever have cared for Mowgli which hurts Mowgli enough to consider their friendship broken.
But, before that plot point can go anywhere, Mowgli is captured by some monkeys and taken to some ancient ruins wherein a mighty ape King Louie presides.
Voiced by Christopher Walken, King Louie is a Gigantopithecus, an extinct species of ancient apes. The reason he’s not an orangutan like in the 1967 Disney film is because orangutans don’t live in the Indian jungles and the filmmakers apparently wanted to correct that mistake.
Anyway, King Louie wants to be the “king of the jungle” and can only do that by knowing how to make fire, something that he thinks Mowgli can teach him. He even sings the I Wan’na Be Like You song further expressing his desires. I was actually a bit let down by Christopher Walken’s singing here and expected it to be more like my good friend, Zora Catone’s version.
Baloo and Bagheera manage to rescue Mowgli from King Louie’s clutches which results in a fight sequence ending with King Louie’s apparent death. It’s here that Mowgli hears that Akela has been killed by Shere Khan and heads back to the wolf den to confront him once and for all. But first, he makes a pit stop at the man-village and steals a torch of fire.
He hopes to frighten/beat Shere Khan with this, but accidentally causes a wildfire in the jungle. The climax has not only Mowgli, but Baloo, Bagheera, and the wolf pack fighting against Shere Khan. Shere Khan is defeated when Mowgli uses his “human ingenuity” causing Shere Khan to fall into a proverbial (and maybe even literal) pit of fire.
The fires are then put out by the jungle’s elephants redirecting the river’s water. The movie ends with everyone realizing that Mowgli can stay in the jungle and embrace his humanness: a happy ending!
And that was The Jungle Book. Was it good? Well, it did have many good aspects. The best thing of the movie, by far, were the amazing visuals: the gorgeous jungle scenes, the hundreds of animals, the animation of the main animal characters, this was a film that you needed to see on a big screen to capture the awesomeness and enormity of it all!
Also many of the performances were great with Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Scarlett Johansson standing out as the best. Bill Murray wasn’t that bad and neither were any of the wolf performers. Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi were probably the worst of the actors, but they did at least try.
So what were some of the cons? Well, while not a bad thing, the film does have quite a few story changes when compared to the 1967 film such as Shere Khan not actively pursuing Mowgli, Baloo and Mowgli not being friends from the beginning, Mowgli sneaking into the man-village and then staying in the jungle afterwards, etc. These don’t necessarily make the film bad, but show that this film was intended to just be another adaptation of the story. Whether or not these story changes are more in line with the book, I don’t know as I’ve not read the book in years and don’t remember! If anyone has read the book, please let me know in the comments below.
Other cons of this film include being incredibly long. The story of The Jungle Book isn’t incredibly long nor deep, so you can feel when it’s being stretched out in a feature film. I also wish the film was more of a musical rather than only featuring two of the songs from the 1967 animated film.
Summing up, this is an example of a film that overall is good, but it’s not a favorite of mine. I’m glad I watched it once, but I don’t think it has any rewatch factor for me. Jon Favreau, good job, but I don’t think I want a sequel to this film!
Oh no, what have I done?!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
The next review will be posted on October 31st.