Movie review: Disney brings ‘The Jungle Book’ to life in a new way
–In 1967 Disney released an animated film called “The Jungle Book.” It told the story of a man cub — Mowgli — and his adventures in the jungle. It was fun, had catchy songs and became a classic.
Nearly 50 years later, Disney is going to the well again. This new incarnation of “The Jungle Book” is about Mowgli the man cub and his adventures in the jungle, but much about the presentation has changed. It’s not longer a cute kids cartoon, but rather a blend of live action and CGI meant to bring a more real feel to the story.
There are still familiar characters, jokes and even a few songs, but much about the presentation has changed. Disney hopes that more of these live action re-makes of classic cartoons will continue to catch on with a new generation of moviegoers.
“The Jungle Book” picks up with Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as a young man cub trying to fit in with other creatures in the jungle. The panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) is there to guide Mowgli as he makes his home among the wolves, under the care of Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).
When a drought plagues the land, all the creatures of the jungle come together at Peace Rock to drink. There the ruler of the jungle — the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) — makes his presence felt. He has no patience or tolerance for a man cub in the jungle, and challenges the leader of the wolves, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito).
For his safety — and that of the other jungle creatures — Bagheera leads Mowgli away, planning to return him to the village of man. But along the way they get separated. Mowgli soon makes friends with a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and learns to embrace his uniqueness in his jungle home.
With Shere Khan still on the prowl, Mowgli and his friends have to learn to stand up for themselves in order to restore peace to the jungle.
This isn’t the first Disney cartoon to get the live-action treatment. Last year “Cinderella” did quite well bringing the magic to life with flesh and blood performers. Now “The Jungle Book” is going for the same thing.
Jon Favreau, who directed “Iron Man,” takes the reigns in bringing this hybrid of live action and computer animation to life. He’s blessed with a strong voice cast that includes Murray, Elba, Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken. And there are parts of the film that work well. It captures the spirit of what endeared the original to generations of younger viewers.
But part of the presentation didn’t work for me. This is a more serious take on the story, yet the film tries to shoehorn in key callbacks to the animated film, including its most famous songs. Those sequences, while well meaning, didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the action.
In addition, Sethi has to carry a lot of the action on film since he’s acting opposite computer-generated creatures. That, at times, makes it difficult to give the jungle animals a lot of personality, which ends up leaving the film feeling flat.
The target for “The Jungle Book” is likely younger viewers, and I think the film will accomplish that well. It’s nicely crafted and put together. But for adult viewers, it feels a little long and dry. It’s a noble attempt, but it lacks some of the magic that made the live action version of “Cinderella” pop.
“The Jungle Book” has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for some sequences of scary action and peril.
Two stars out of four.