Do you remember my Zootopia review? if not, go read it! I will leave a link here! But if you already read it then you will know that I was practically drooling over some of the visuals and the way that Disney went through some painstaking lengths to be extremely detailed when making the animals in the film look extremely life like. And while I still think that film did an amazing job, Disney’s new liver action movie, The Jungle Book, practically puts it to shame! But it also did so much more than that, this film is meant to be a live action adaptation of one of the most well-known and beloved Disney properties and it is part of the company’s new ‘live-action’ initiative where they bring your favorite classic fairy tales to life. Personally, I would have to argue that they were off to a rocky start with Malificent, but really did a solid job in their more recent adaptation of Cinderella where they, instead of changing elements of the story to make a new and very different narrative, brought the characters and story from your childhood to life. And I think that their new live action The Jungle Book does the same, but is executed even better!
After being found by a benevolent and loving panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) as a baby, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is taken in by a pack of wolves and is raised as one of the wolf’s own which is an odd situation given the fact that Mowgli is a ‘man-cub’. And while Mowgli does have issues fitting in, his life seems to be going well…that is until an excessively dry period hits the jungle, depleting much of the animal’s water supply. Eventually, the nearby waters dry up so much that the animals of the jungle decide to call a truce for the time being as they all need to visit a very small watering hole to survive. Unfortunately, it is at this watering hole that the fierce tiger, Shere Khan (Edris Elba), is alerted to the presence of the small man-cub and issues a warning to the wolves that are harboring him. He threatens them by saying that once the rain comes again and the drought is over, he will come for Mowgli and kill him to ‘restore order’. This causes Bagheera to take action and attempt to return Mowgli to the ‘man-village’ where he belongs, but the journey won’t be that easy and Mowgli faces many trials and tribulations along the way.
His trials are due in part to the fact that Shere Khan is right in that Mowgli represents something completely different in the animal kingdom and that he is not part of the natural order. Whether it is the Orangutan King Louie attempting to kidnap Mowgli so that he can teach the extremely large ape how to harness fire, or Baloo befriending Mowgli at first so that he can procure him honey that is always out of reach, Mowgli represents something out of the natural order. However, like Bahgeera knows, that doesn’t make taking the man-cub’s life a just cause and in fact the only thing stopping Mowgli from becoming one from the natural order is the fact that those around him want him to simply conform rather than be himself. It isn’t until Baloo comes into the picture that Bagheera and even Mowgli consider the idea that having Mowgli do things his way might actually be beneficial. So in that way, Mowgli’s story arc is one of self reflection and becoming whole with yourself. He doesn’t accomplish this until he stops trying to be like the other animals and accept himself.
That’s one thing that, I think, sets The Jungle Book apart from other Disney films, the moral of the story isn’t something completely obvious, nor do they beat you over the head with it. Zootopia, as great as the film was, quite clearly had a moral, and agenda, and it practically mentioned it every chance it got. This movie, however, feels more subtle than that, more mature in the way it chooses to tell its lesson. That might be because this film was a live-action one not entirely aimed for kids, but I would also like to chalk it up to good writing?
Did I also mention that the visuals in this film are friggin’ amazing? The movie is about 97% green screen and digital effects! But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the screen. The animals in the movie talk, just like in the original movie, but it doesn’t look odd or awkward it looks rather natural. What you get in this movie is fake animals surrounded by fake scenery and none of it looks faked or CGI which is incredible. Many big budget movies implore CGI for elements of the film, DISNEY DOES IT IN ALL OF ITS MARVEL MOVIES EVEN, but for the most part, you are aware that some or all of what you are looking at is fake…why? Because it doesn’t quite look real… but this movie does a fantastic job of making you believe that what you’re seeing is actually a jungle with real animals and said jungle and animals look absolutely gorgeous and well-detailed. This holds true whether Mowgli is talking to the loving bear Baloo, Bagheera is fighting Shere Khan, the shit looks real and life like and amazing. Kudos!
And really the only thing that might overshadow the visuals in this movie is the incredible voice acting. You have some really well-known actors in this movie, Edris Elba, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walkin, ScarJo and more and, honestly I feel like each of these actors were perfectly cast. It is one of those situations in which you KNOW you’re hearing a particular voice actor, but the do so well or fit the character so perfectly that you have zero trouble immersing yourself in their particular scenes. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea WHICH voice actor I liked the most– it is a tie between basically all of them…Seriously… I LOVED Murray as Baloo… the second you hear his voice as the big lovable bear you just immediately fall in love with the character, but I also thing Elba and Kingsley did such an amazing job as well… I can’t pick…don’t make me pick…. STOP PRESSURING ME!!!
The kid playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, should have a long career ahead of him. This movie hinges on you liking this boy as well as his performance and, I have to say, he nails it! Keep in mind that most of this movie is green screen, and I think Mowgli represents the 3% of the film that wasn’t. But that means that every scene he is he is basically PRETENDING that the animals and scenery are there when it isn’t. There are big name actors out there with a huge career that would have a hard time pulling that off let alone pulling it off convincingly. I mentioned earlier that the CGI is so good that you have no problem believing that the animals and scenery are really there, but truthfully that is only half of the equation. Neel Sethi is the other half of the equation. Simply put, he helps convince you through is incredible performance that he is really surrounded by a frightening tiger, a benevolent panther and a loving bear and much more.
If there is anything that jars you from the movie, that feels out of place, it would be one of the two musical numbers in the film. We as an audience are treated to the “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You” songs and both of them are done pretty well. My issue is honestly with the second song, however. Bear Necessities was a song that worked pretty well in the film and this is because the movie was done in such a way that it actually felt organic and natural to the story. Baloo goes from mumbling the song in one scene to singing it while having leisure time with Mowgli in the river as they just relax– it didn’t feel forced, it just felt like two friends hanging out and having a good time. However, when Christopher Walkin sings ‘I Wanna be Like You’, it happens without any set up or prompting and feels completely forced and rather out of place. Had they set up singing more consistently in the movie I might have bought it, but as the second of only two songs in the film it felt just clunky and forced. Like, the actually song and stuff wasn’t bad– it just felt out of place.
But overall I would have to say that The Jungle Book is the best live action adaptation of a Disney classic to date and I hope that Disney keeps getting better and better with each new adaptation. But this movie definitely has set the bar for me in terms of the quality that I want going forward with live action adaptations. And one thing I will mention to families looking to bring their small children to this movie…. while the film does have a ‘PG’ rating, it definitely has a ‘PG-13’ vibe and might actually scare some small man-cubs out there. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!