Following the recent trend of live-action remakes of animated films, Disney’s The Jungle Book tells the tale of a boy raised by wolves and his challenge against the fierce tiger of the jungle, Shere Khan. The 1967 animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel has been beloved by generations with famous songs like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” It is only natural that Disney would want to revisit a story with so much potential to better the original with today’s technology, and I’m happy to say 2016’s live-action version is the best adaptation to date.
What I loved most about the movie was its deeper exploration of characters, which was lacking in the 1967 version. Instead of resenting Mowgli, I was rooting for him throughout. Neel Sethi played a fantastic Mowgli with heart, bravery, and wonder. I was in awe of Sethi’s acting, considering all of the animals he was “interacting” with weren’t there. Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba, is fierce and captivating with a presence that demands attention. Bill Murray brings warmth and fun to everyone’s favorite bear, Baloo. Scarlett Johansson is chilling as Kaa the boa constrictor, and Lupita Nyong’o plays Mowgli’s strong wolf mother, Raksha, with a standout performance. Every voice actor brings their A-game to their characters, and it shows.
I had initial expectations that The Jungle Book would rival the life-like CG animation of Avatar. It not only bested Avatar, but it’s the best CG animated movie I’ve ever seen. From every strand of hair on the animals to the shadows cast on the ground, The Jungle Book is a wonderfully crafted picture. To describe it as beautiful would be an understatement.
As the film’s score plays throughout, you can’t help but connect some of the melodies and tones to the animated original. It’s a mixture of nostalgia and a sense of a grand adventure that create tension in some moments and pure fun in others. When Mowgli and Baloo sing “The Bare Necessities,” the studio found a great way to fit it in organically since the two didn’t exactly break out in a song and dance number. The background music just happened to follow their melody. Meanwhile King Louie’s (played by Christopher Walken)“I Wanna Be Like You” started oddly and was quite jarring given the fact that this film isn’t a musical comedy like its predecessor.
Speaking of King Louie, I wish he had more of a presence. His scene felt short, and the same can be said for Kaa. It’s only a testament to Walken’s and Johansson’s performances that I wanted more from them. However, such pivotal characters should have been considered for longer screen time.
Aside for the few shortcomings, The Jungle Book is the captivating jungle adventure I hoped would come from the 1967 animated film. The technical direction is the best in the industry, and I love these characters like I never have before. The story is well-paced, fun and engaging. With all of that said, I plan on going back to see it again very soon. In fact, by the time you read this, I probably already have.