I wanna be like you!
I haven’t been able to stop singing “Bare Necessities” since I walked out of my showing of The Jungle Book last night. The song itself is just so catchy and charming, it’s kind of hard to get out of your head. And that pretty much describes my experience with the film as a whole.
The Jungle Book is Disney’s latest live action adaptation of an animated classic. Unlike a lot of people, I have no real memory of the original film, it was just something I never really cared about. I was able to experience The Jungle Book with a completely unbiased pair of eyes, and I have to say, director Jon Favreau was able to win me over, and somehow made me feel nostalgic for a film that I don’t have any real memories of.
The aspect most reviewers have focused on are the visual effects, and rightfully so. What Favreau was able to achieve with this film is nothing short of extraordinary. I had such a great time just living in the world that The Jungle Book creates, it’s hard to believe everything was fake. It’s fairly well known that the entirety of The Jungle Book was filmed on a sound stage, and that almost everything that appears in the film is CGI, but if you weren’t privy to that information you never would have been able to guess. Its a visual masterpiece.
This film is a technological marvel on the same scale Avatar was. The jungle Mowgli and his pack of wolves inhabit looks and feels real. Even when it’s populated by a panther that sounds suspiciously like Ben Kingsley or a tiger that’s voice as the ferocity of Idris Elba. Photo-realistic talking animals could have been jarring, but The Jungle Book is able to blend these voices into a world that is so vivid and believable that you quickly just begin to accept it and immerse yourself into the jungle.
While the effects in this film are beautiful and groundbreaking, you wouldn’t be able to buy into this world if it wasn’t for the superb voice cast. Idris Elba as Shere Khan, the villainous tiger is great and Elba is so intimidating in the role. You could feel the rage behind his words every time he spoke, and helped to give Shere Khan an aura of unpredictability. You never knew whether Shere Khan would react stoically or if he would lash out in a fit of rage and kill somebody. Elba managed to actually turn Shere Khan into a formidable villain.
Ben Kingsley is able to give Bagheera real parental concern and protectiveness over Mowgli, and I really bought into his character. Scarlett Johansson voices Kaa the snake and while she is good in the role, she isn’t in the film long enough to make a lasting impression. Christopher Walken is able to infuse King Louie with both charm and menace at the same time, and hearing him sing “I wanna be like you” was delightfully entertaining.
The standout in the voice cast was Bill Murray as the lovable Baloo. Murray’s deadpan humor and voice lent itself very well to the character of Baloo, a slightly manipulative bear with a heart of gold who learns to love Mowgli. Their relationship in the film is very sweet, and the scene in which they sing “Bare Necessities” is one of of my favorite in the film. Bill Murray just has such a natural charisma that it shines through even in voice work.
Both Bagheera and Baloo guide Mowgli through a series of loosely connected vignettes through the jungle. There isn’t much of an overarching plot outside of Shere Khans hate for Mowgli, but that didn’t really hurt the film. It’s a simple story about a boy who lives in the jungle. Its sweet and full of heart, if at times uneven. While for the most part the film is very lighthearted and whimsical, it gets awfully dark at times (mainly whenever Shere Khan is on screen) which leads to a sometimes uneven tone.
Though I hate to say it, the weakest part of the film was Neel Sethi as Mowgli. I know he is just a child actor, and usually I would be able to ignore a bad performance from said child actor, but Sethi plays the main character in the film, and is totally unconvincing. Whenever the Sethi had to participate in a dramatic moment the acting fell flat for me. This really ended up wasting some of the film’s dramatic potential, and I felt the film was lesser for it.
Yes, I know how little the kid had to work with, as mentioned before Jungle Book was filmed completely on a sound stage. I acknowledge that he acted against pure green screen, but when the rest of the voice work is so strong and are really able to bring these talking animals to life, the fact that the human element of the film is the most unbelievable part is disappointing and at times distracting.
With that being said, there is still a lot of great stuff to take away from The Jungle Book. When taken as a whole, The Jungle Book is an enjoyable, charming, and at times magical film. One that crafts a world that is so breathtakingly beautiful, that it needs to be experienced on this big screen to really appreciate its artistry, even if you only end up seeing it once.