Movie Review | The Jungle Book (2016)
Movie Summary: After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free spirited bear, Baloo. (IMDb)
This is a strange film, purely for the fact that – pretty much as soon as it’s finished – you find yourself asking if it really needs to exist. The answer is probably ‘no’ too, as it doesn’t really add anything to the animated original and you can’t even say that it’s to see the story done in live action as, Mowgli aside, everything is CGI.
Now, that sounds like a pretty strong criticism, but, despite the fact that this version of The Jungle Book is essentially unnecessary, that doesn’t stop it being a very good film. Is it as good as the traditionally-animated version? Hard to say. I think kids today and future generations will end up preferring whichever of the films they see first.
In fact, the only real issue to be had is that I ended up trying to figure out the voice actors as they all sounded familiar and the film would have probably been better served with less well-known names. Saying that, kids watching the film aren’t going to care about that and probably most adults too.
Otherwise, The Jungle Book is a very fun way to spend a couple of hours, with the story always proceeding at a decent place, great music and some fantastic – if familiar – voice acting. Bill Murray is great as Baloo and Idris Elba is magnificent as the malevolent Shere Khan.
The only big name to seem extraneous is Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, who appears for one scene and feels like she’s only in the film to tick the character off a list of those who appeared in the original.
Ben Kingsley is also great as Bagheera, matching Elba’s performance even if the panther isn’t a physical match for the deadly tiger. Then there’s Christopher Walken who winds up stealing the scene in his appearance as King Louie, complete with an Apocalypse Now reference during his introduction.
The weakest acting comes from Neel Sethi as Mowgli, but he’s fine as a child actor who’s the only actual live-action part of the film, plus compare the talent he’s up against! Sethi’s performance certainly doesn’t detract from the film at all, although there are a couple of occasions where you can tell from his physical acting that he’s just on a green-screen stage in a warehouse rather than in an actual jungle – although this is a criticism of the production rather than the actor.
Despite that, the CGI world created for the film is almost always convincing as a physical, real location rather than the product of computers. It’s genuinely staggering at times just how photo-realistic everything looks. It ends up being the more human-like behaviour of the talking animals that breaks any immersion rather than the environments.
Once you accept that, despite how convincing they may appear as actual animals, they aren’t going to really act like animals, you’re in for a great time. Plus, not acting like animals is kind of necessary for pretty much the entire story to happen, so it can hardly count as a criticism either!
But this is kind of the issue when you question why this film exists – yes, there are criticisms to be had that can be swiped aside almost immediately, but why go for the mix of live-action Mowgli and CGI… everything else?
You don’t question these things about the original film, because everything and everyone in it is a cartoon, and the real-life Mowgli interacting with realistic-looking animals behaving entirely unlike animals can sometimes jar a little and break the suspension of disbelief.
I don’t want to sound too negative as I really did enjoy The Jungle Book from beginning to end and would quite happily watch it again when given the chance, but I’m also in no rush to see it again having seen the original many times when growing up.