Please note: I originally wrote this review for Pan and Scan. The original can be found here:
Director: Jon Favreau
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb): After a threat from the tiger, Sheer Khan, forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the aid of the panther, Bagheera, and the free spirited bear, Baloo.
The Jungle Book is a Disney classic, with a world-famous soundtrack to back it up; it was whimsical, light-hearted, fun and full of jazz. Fast-forward to 2016 however, and things have changed. In place of the bright, colourful hand-drawn animation of the original we have a lot of CGI over a darker, slightly more realistic film.
Most of the requisite story beats are still there in Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book, but it is a different film from the original. It is a darker film, with the violence and raw power of the animals on display – the fights look realistic despite being ridiculous. There is definitely a power here that isn’t in the original. Favreau’s Jungle Book doesn’t forget its roots however, with Bill Murray’s Baloo providing a comedy turn. Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi) is somewhat reminiscent of his animated self also.
The Jungle Book is full of allusions to the animated classic, tugging at the strings of nostalgia more than a few times. But there is also plenty missing or changed from the original. Take the scale for instance; Favreau’s Jungle Book is a grand film, full to the brim with action-packed set-pieces that were simply not there in the original. Favreau clearly admires the original film though, as he doesn’t rewrite the classic, rather re-interprets it for a modern audience. But this is the greatest flaw of The Jungle Book.
Throughout the film, I was left wondering why I wasn’t just watching the original instead. I appreciate that this new version is trying something a little different, but every time it made allusions to the original I was left yearning for that. I liked the changes made this time around, but I wish they stuck with their own theme throughout, rather than going between the two – the film felt a little torn.
I understand that The Jungle Book is a family film, but I wanted to see more of Idris Elba’s badass Sheer Khan terrorising the jungle – making him more evil than he already is. The dark scenes were handled very well, allowing us to see the terrifying nature of the beasts. I do think perhaps though, that the film is a little too dark for little children, who may get scared even by the film’s antagonists. King Louie in particular could provide some scares for kids. This time around, Louie was given a mafiosa makeover, voiced perfectly by Christopher Walken. I liked the changes in the characters, but I wasn’t so sure when they started to sing.
I love the music of The Jungle Book, so to hear it butchered by Bill Murray and Christopher Walken was an unpleasant surprise. I jest. It wasn’t the singing that I had a problem with, I had more of a problem with the songs even being in the film. Look, I’m no stick in the mud, and I appreciate that people got a real nostalgia kick out of hearing the songs (I know personally that their inclusion in the film made people very happy, taking them back in time to more care-free days). I feel like the songs were at odds with the other, darker themes in the film.
The Jungle Book is hard to judge. At times, it was a great family film about finding your own path in life and at other times it felt like a worse version of the original. One thing for sure though, is that the visuals were top-notch. The Jungle Book carries with it a similar sheen to film’s such as Life of Pi, effortlessly mixing live-action with CGI better than many film before it.
My main issue with The Jungle Book is that it feels a little pointless. If you want to watch The Jungle Book, watch the original – it’s better. Favreau’s Jungle Book is not a bad film in of itself, but I couldn’t shake the feeling whilst watching it that I’d rather have spent my time watching the original one more time.