The Bare Necessities Enlighten The Jungle Book
A couple of nights before I saw Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man, Elf) The Jungle Book, I watched the original 1967 cartoon with some friends. It’s not a Disney film I’ve seen an abundant amount of times like Aladdin or Alice in Wonderland, so watching it again was refreshing. The thing here is that I’m not sure whether watching the original cartoon film set me up to enjoy or dislike the new live action version. I’m still on the fence about that.
Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight, The Jungle Book is beautiful. The CGI on this film is probably the best use of animal animation we’ve ever seen. Knowing the entire film was shot on a back lot in Los Angeles and not actually in the Indian jungle was also a jaw dropping comprehension. The fluidity of the animation used in this film is astounding; but can the movie get by on its looks like a high school quarterback? That’s a whole different story. The Jungle Book does something very interesting that I was not expecting. It follows the original’s storyline pretty darn close. (I can’t say whether or not it follows the book very well as I’ve never read the Kipling novel.) The characters in the film aren’t departures from their predecessors, though they aren’t carbon copies either. I did have some issues with the Baloo character, played by Bill Murray, but I’ll get into that later on.
The fluidity of the animation used in this film is astounding; but can the movie get by on its looks like a high school quarterback?
The voice cast of the film is stellar. With a massive array of incredibly talented actors lending their voices to their animal counterparts, they truly keep the film’s spirit alive. Sir Ben Kingsley bleeds power and guidance as Bagheera. Idris Elba feeds fear and strength in the tiger Shere Khan. All of the main voice cast and the supporting voice cast do their character’s justice and truly make you connect with them. These aren’t just animals speaking, these are characters with thoughts and feelings, characters that could easily be human in another setting. But how far can these CGI animals carry the film when our main character is a little boy no older than 10? How does The Jungle Book fare in the hands of newcomer Neel Sethi? Well, I’d say decent at best.
Sethi looks the part for sure, he looks just as Mowgli should, but I had one major question through the entirety of the film while watching him. Was Neel Sethi acting innocent as Mowgli, or was he just acting poorly? This is a rough concept for me because I don’t want to hinder a young talent’s growth. Child actors are very often incredible hit or miss. We either get a very lackluster performance from someone who hasn’t truly grasped the art of acting yet or we get someone who by all means should not be as talented at such a young age. (I urge you, if you have not already, to check out Jacob Tremblay in Room.) Neel Sethi is sort of a balance in between the two sides of this argument. He isn’t jaw dropping impressive, but he isn’t cringe worthy either. Now is this the fault of the child actor or the fault of the script? I think it’s a little bit of both. It feels as if Justin Marks’ script spent far too much time focusing on the animal characters for fear of being mocked by the audience. Mowgli is the center of attention but his thought process seems cloudy at times.
It feels as if Justin Marks’ script spent far too much time focusing on the animal characters for fear of being mocked by the audience
Mowgli’s relationship with Baloo is at the top of its game. This is a very important aspect of the story because of the character interaction. However, I couldn’t help but realize a glaring problem while being introduced to the giant bear. Baloo, in this film, is a con artist. Upon meeting Mowgli he immediately uses him to get his honey. I understand that Marks took a deliberate stance on the personality of bears in the film but it felt out of character for Baloo. He’s not a con artist, he’s a friend and confidant to Mowgli. He’s worry free. While it wasn’t a huge set-back for his character or the film, it was just something that rubbed me the wrong way.
When it comes to movies, I’m a firm believer in suspension of disbelief; especially when it comes to Disney films. There is, however, something about this movie that completely takes me out of that trance. The movie is grounded in reality; the animals are the most life like animated animals we’ve ever seen on camera…but they speak English. I can get behind this concept in the cartoon, it’s a cartoon. I could even get behind the concept if there were no humans in the film, or Mowgli couldn’t understand them (not that this would make for a good film at all.) But the idea of a human boy speaking English to real animals is something that I just can’t wrap my head around. Again, this is a problem for me specifically and in no way does it affect my opinion of the film. It’s just something I felt the need to get off my chest.
The Jungle Book is aesthetically beautiful, passionate, fun, and a little wonky at times.
While The Jungle Book is an incredibly well-balanced film in its script, character development, and points, they do tend to stumble with the random inclusion of music. It’s impossible to do The Jungle Book without having Baloo sing “Bare Necessities”, and this is fine. Bill Murray scatting and just jamming out with Mowgli while floating down the river is in tune with the film. Baloo actually teaches Mowgli what a song is. It’s when we get to Christopher Walken’s King Louis singing “I Wanna Be Like You” that I felt a tad confused. This is a full song with a chorus and everything. He isn’t jamming out during dialogue like Baloo. This humongous Gigantopithecus (which has been extinct since the Pleistocene era, thank you Wikipedia) is doing a musical number in front of a small child. The shift felt far too steep and far to out of place. It’s a Disney movie, there’s going to be song, but then at least give me a couple songs, not just one random one in the middle of the film and that’s the end of it.
The Jungle Book is aesthetically beautiful, passionate, fun, and a little wonky at times. This was a huge undertaking for Jon Favreau and his crew and they did a superb job at turning it into something they could be proud of. While the film has its weak points and random missteps, it’s still a very interesting and surprising character study. There’s a lot in The Jungle Book but at no time do you feel it has its hands too full. Enjoy the film for its exquisitely detailed animation or its powerful action and strong humor. It really is a strong film, but even strong films have their weak points.