The Jungle Book is Disney's live-action/CGI hybrid remake of their own animated version of the story from 1967. Fun fact; the original Disney film was actually the first film I ever saw at the cinema at the tender age of three. It's directed by Jon Favreau, who did great work with the first two Iron Man movies, and the trailers looked great so I was quite excited for this one.
If you don't already know the story follows Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening tiger Shere Khan.
First and foremost we need to talk about the CGI – because it's incredible. Virtually the whole film, bar Neel Sethi as Mowgli and Ritesh Rajan as his father, is computer generated and it was all shot on a sound stage. The environments and background features look incredibly realistic and rich and the animals are extremely expressive and well-realised. I've no doubt it'll look dated in twenty years but right now it's the best CGI created world we've seen since Avatar.
In terms of the storyline it sticks pretty closely to the Disney original but throws in a few new narrative beats from the Rudyard Kipling novels. It also focuses far more on the concept of humankind working with, and not against, nature. For me this is the most interesting and progressive element of the tale and I enjoyed it a lot.
Again the tone is similar to the 1967 version but veers towards the more serious, dark end of the spectrum. There are, however, some brilliant comedic moments provided by Baloo's bear-as-stoner act, Mowgli's annoying but cute ramblings and a Pygmy Hog/Giant Squirrel duo who steal every scene they're in.
In fact every performance here is commendable. Neel Sethi does an impressive job considering he's only thirteen years old and is starring in his first feature film as, pretty much, the only on-screen human. Other highlights include Scarlett Johansson's creepy turn as Kaa, Bill Murray as, well, Bill Murray AKA Baloo and Idris Elba as an supremely scary and unpredictable Shere Khan.
There are also some beautiful sequences such as the opening wherein the Disney logo fades into the background to reveal the lush-us forest, a striking time lapse set to the changing of seasons and a truly vivid flashback to Mowgli's past. Mention must also be made of the end credits which were some of the most visually inventive, and fun, I've seen in some time.
With all that said sadly not everything added up for me. Try as he might Sethi is in a losing battle having to act against CGI characters as he often seems confused and lost. Even on a basic visual level it's weird seeing one real person in a fully animated backdrop and I was left with the feeling that it might have been better if Mowgli was animated too. And although I was impressed with the visuals and there were some inventive moments I craved for a more stylised and less slavishly realistic look to the film.
As mentioned the film is a darker take on the original but the ending felt far too neat and saccharine and in all honesty it was a little boring for me. There is also a weird half-measure attitude taken towards the musical numbers from the original as only two are featured (three if you count the credits) and they're barely sung. This felt like a mistake as they didn't fit the tone of the film and smart call-backs were all that was needed.
Everything animated in The Jungle Book is amazingly impressive but it fails to incorporate it's human counterpart and although it's a heart-warming story in general it was too safe for my taste. I'm going to give it a 6/10 and would recommend it to fans of Avatar, Boy and The World, Life of Pi and, of course, the Disney original.
Have you seen The Jungle Book and if so what did you think of it? As always, let me know in the comments below and make sure to subscribe for more reviews coming soon!