This Jungle Book lacks the Bare Necessities

by Alan Rapp on April 15, 2016

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Jungle Book
  • IMDb: link

The Jungle BookAs with Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and 101 Dalmatians, Disney’s latest attempt to offer a live-action version of one of their classic animated movies offers mixed results. Originally based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, 1967’s The Jungle Book took us into the jungle to follow the adventures of Mowgli the Man Cub (Neel Sethi), a young orphan raised by wolves. Rather than offer a straight reinterpretation of Kipling’s work or a direct live-action version of Disney’s animated feature, the new movie attempts to do both leading to an uneven story that is too dark for its lighter moments and simple bizarre when it tries to recreate animated sequences (such as Mowgli and Baloo singing “Bare Necessities” down the river) in realistic CGI.

The choice to cast well-known actors in the main CGI roles also turns out to be a questionable decision. While Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba are used well, and the plodding plot certainly picks up with the introduction of Baloo (Bill Murray), Murray isn’t so much acting here as doing his own shtick which, while entertaining, works against creating the seamless reality needed to sell the story.

A Disney film is often only as good as its villains. This version of Shere Khan (Elba), while certainly menacing in CGI, lacks the grandeur and sly wit of the previous version. Scarlett Johansson turns out to be a good choice for Kaa, but sadly the snake’s part in the movie is significantly smaller than in the original animated version. And then there’s the casting of Christopher Walken as King Louie which is as surreal as anything I’ve ever seen from a Disney film. The only thing I could compare his performance of “I Wanna Be Like You” to would be William Shatner’s performance of “The Real Slim Shady” on Futurama.

Although I still hold a soft spot in my heart for the original, while admitting it has one of Disney’s more memorable musical numbers, The Jungle Book isn’t one of my favorite Disney animated features. I certainly don’t begrudge the studio into attempting a new version of the story. But, for me, the new version simply falls short. I found the action-heavy CGI was often at odds with the 3D (especially in Mowgli’s early tromps through the jungle). And while Sethi certainly looks the part, the young actor’s performance is as uneven as the rest of the movie.

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