I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen the Disney animated The Jungle Book from beginning to end. I’ve seen scenes – when I was a kid I had a toy that played the scene with Kaa, and I watched that scene so many times the images were worn – and I’m familiar with the characters, but I have never seen the film in its entirety. So my reviewing this newer “live action” version comes from a place not of comparison or nostalgia, but of seeing the film on its own merits as an adult.
The reason I put the words live action in quotation marks in the previous paragraph is as good a place as any to start talking about this new, Favreau directed version of the classic story. If you look at a list of the actors in the film, the only actor playing a major character not listed as “voice” is Neel Sethi as Mowgli, our young protagonist. There is one brief flashback scene with two other live actors at one point in the film, but aside from that every single player in this movie is as animated as in the 1967 version of the film, it’s just that here the animals are so realistic that it’s easy to forget we are watching CGI. It isn’t just the characters being computer rendered here, either. While I’m sure much of the scenery is real, some of it had to obviously been animated, as well. Everything is so incredibly realistic, however, that it’s impossible for the eye to judge what it is real and what isn’t in most cases, you just have to make the judgement using common sense.
The acting in this The Jungle Book runs a quite a range from genius to distracting. Choosing big name voices to play all the major, recognizable roles in the film was a double edged decision. While Bill Murray (as Baloo) elevates his role in the film as he always does whenever his name is tied to a project, and Scarlet Johnannsen (Kaa), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), and Ben Kingsley (Bagheera) all also do phenomenal work in their respective roles, others like Christopher Walken (King Louie) and Gary Shandling (Ikki) merely distract with their far too recognizable voices and who did little to disguise the fact that it is just them talking through the mouths of animated animals. As far as Neel Sethi in his starring role, well, he’s a child actor. I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse, but it was obvious he was being led by the nose through his part, and his entire acting range seemed to be “speak as loud as you can without screaming no matter what is happening to you”. He wasn’t horrible, particularly for his age, but it was very obvious he isn’t mature enough to tentpole a film on his own, and Favreau did not do the job he should have to hide this fact.
I went to see this film in 3D because I’d heard that in India the ratings board made it so children had to be accompanied by adults to see the film as they felt the animals fighting in 3D was too scary for most children to handle, and I just had to check that out for myself. While I wouldn’t say anything here is inappropriate for children, the violence is just animals hitting each other around with no blood or any other gore of any kind to be seen, the sight of these large animals attacking each other at times is really impressive, and definitely could be scary for the youngest of children. But, I wouldn’t avoid taking your children to The Jungle Book for that reason, unless they are particularly sensitive to violence. It can be quite ferocious, but never got to the point of outright brutal.
The visuals in The Jungle Book are astonishing. It’s easy to lose yourself in this world and forget that it’s not real and that animals can’t really talk. The rest is a little hit or miss, though it errs more toward the hit side, and while there is nothing much here for adults aside from nostalgia, the kids will love it, and it’s stunning enough to look at that the adults will be able to have a good time, as well.
Rating: 6.0 out of 10