While not lifeless, there’s not enough presented by The Jungle Book for me to get on board with. I like the fact that it knows whom it’s geared towards, but what I hate about its acknowledgement is how in turn something more restricted comes about. After Cinderella (which I’m indifferent to) and Alice in Wonderland (which I despise), Disney comes about with another live action remake of one of their classics, and this time, they tackle The Jungle Book. I was hoping for more out of this adaptation because I was particularly indifferent to the original Cinderella film and I was wondering what Jon Favreau could have done with his own spin on a different Disney film, and one which I had more of an attachment to at that. It was certainly something that looked very nice as it should, but trying to find the reasons for myself to get invested was where the real challenge came in.
Usually when a film is being remade, what I tend to seek out is a more distinctive touch that shows how much it wishes to be its own thing. It’s interestingly set up from the variation which has been placed onto the Disney logo but it also became a factor for baiting what I would fear most: a hammer to the head with nostalgia. It became evident from that cue alone that the film’s reliance upon nostalgia for the original Jungle Book film without carrying anything distinctly new to the table aside from the fact that what we are being presented is a live action remake filled to the brim with spectacular visuals. Yet for how impressive all of these visuals are, they cannot hide the many running problems with The Jungle Book, it is a film that looks as beautiful thanks to its backgrounds as it is hollow.
In order to address the positives so I can get them out of the way, the backgrounds especially under Jon Favreau’s direction are absolutely stunning. Favreau’s movement through the CGI is impressive, and in turn it helps in evoking the storybook atmosphere to which the film intends to reach. The voice casting especially is probably the biggest highlight, especially when you have choices like Bill Murray playing Baloo or Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, arguably the best of the bunch. Their voices indeed manage to create a presence when matched up together with the atmosphere which Jon Favreau wishes to create for The Jungle Book, but for how outstanding their work in here is, the possible greatness that could have risen is indeed hindered.
The moment in which I said that the film goes back down to hammering nostalgia down the throat is among these factors, because it seems that Jon Favreau’s manners of throwing back to the original Jungle Book ultimately become what he is relying on in order to keep a certain flow for the film going. The reliance upon elements that made the original Jungle Book end up restricting possibilities that could end up into a distinctly new vision, because when looking at it alongside the original animation, the first thing that can be said is that we are only watching the same film done in live action. It comes down to the film’s incorporating of musical numbers that made the animated film so memorable like “The Bear Necessities” or “I Wanna Be Like You” where the film is not wishing to carry its own distinctive touches, but the new rendition of one of these two gets to me.
Although I very much enjoy Christopher Walken’s “I Wanna Be Like You,” I can’t help but feel as if it could easily have been taken out of the film and no major impact would have been left behind. However, “The Bare Necessities” really gets to me because it feels only as if one half is alive and the other is not. The half that is alive comes from Bill Murray’s own voice, because his singing is amongst the most impressive of the offerings that come from the voice cast which Jon Favreau has assembled. The reason to why I mention that this song is only half alive is that when Bill Murray is singing his part as Baloo as it had always been from the original, Neel Sethi’s part is horribly grating. The performance of Neel Sethi as Mowgli is another thing to which I want to get down to but his own portion of the “Bare Necessities” number to some extent almost feels insulting to the original.
Now if I were to talk of Neel Sethi’s performance as Mowgli, there’s a lot to which I have to get down to. His physical presence is indeed what keeps the movie flowing. I don’t wish to be harsh on Sethi knowing that this is his first film role, but knowing what charisma the voice cast had, Sethi’s performance did not live up. As Mowgli, I really do hate to say it, but Neel Sethi is quite awful especially when one comes to consider how he is a live action caricature who is bombarded by all the flourish that surrounds him. While the visuals may have already had so much that were endearing for the eye, the lack of energy in Sethi’s debut performance was quite easily the most off-putting aspect to The Jungle Book, because the emotional arc inside of this performance is so visibly lacking and leaves me, as a viewer, to be heavily detached from the main story because it is an awful performance.
From the many things to which I was expecting of a live action take on The Jungle Book, boring was not one of them. For all the visually stunning moments that carry the film about, the lack of emotional involvement especially within the flow of the story is what detracts from the experience. There is never very much reason to care for these characters even with all the impressive voice work put behind them, and there is never so much of an attempt at being its own version because it hammers down upon the original animated film far too much. It is rather harmless fare to say the least especially for its pandering towards children (who I’m sure are going to love it), but for those who have grown up with the animated film, there is very little left behind that would have left the mark which The Jungle Book should have carried. For how beautiful it is, it all feels so empty.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screenplay by Justin Marks, from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and the 1967 animated film
Produced by Jon Favreau, Brigham Taylor
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley, Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o, Neel Sethi
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 105 minutes