Review: New live action reboot of ‘The Jungle Book’ is nostalgic gold
Anyone who grew up watching Disney movies knows the tale of “The Jungle Book,” and the lovable characters and songs that derived from the animated classic. What is important about this tale is the journey a young boy takes from a place he’s always known as home, the jungles of India, to someplace new where he “belongs.”
In the new version of “The Jungle Book” that debuted in theaters just a few weeks ago, the basic plot of the original film remains the same, with a few additions along the way.
Young Mowgli, played by Neel Sethi, grows up with the cubs of a wolf pack living in the jungle after the panther Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley, finds him abandoned as a baby. Mowgli is brought up by Bagheera and his wolf parents, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), who teach him the law of the jungle and what it’s like to be a wolf.
Over time, there is a drought in the jungle that gets so bad that there is very little water left. As a result, the animals form a truce that protects the jungle’s wildlife, so they can drink water without fear of being eaten.
Because of the lack of water, all sorts of animals descend to the one of the last bodies of water, including the menacing tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who detects Mowgli, a man cub, in the crowd. Shere Khan’s hatred of man for scarring his face causes him to threaten the man cub, saying that he will kill Mowgli after the drought when the truce is lifted. Though the members of pack talk long about whether or not they should keep Mowgli, the man cub decides on his own to leave the jungle in the hopes that the tiger will leave his pack alone.
After a sad farewell, Bagheera and Mowgli set out for the man village on the other side of the jungle. Along the way they encounter both friend and foe. Shere Khan attacks Bagheera in an attempt to kill Mowgli. Finding himself alone, Mowgli is then almost eaten by Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson) who reveals to him the power of the red flower and how Mowgli’s father used it to injure Shere Khan, prompting the tiger to kill him when Mowgli was only a child.
Thankfully, Mowgli is saved by Baloo the jungle bear (Bill Murray) who takes the man cub under his tutelage, teaching him about how to live for one’s own needs, unless those needs include retrieving honey.
Eventually all three of them encounter the humongous King Louie (Christopher Walken) who, while trying to get Mowgli to get him the red flower, tells Mowgli some news that prompts the climax of the movie.
Like I said, if you’ve seen the “Jungle Book” movie that came out in the ’60s you have an idea of what the conclusion of this movie can be/is.
However, under the magnificent direction of Jon Favreau, director of the “Iron Man” movies, “Elf” and “Chef,” this movie becomes more than just a tale everyone thinks they know. Favreau gives “The Jungle Book” meaning – a reason to exist other than just to entertain audiences, which it still does. For the most part all of the voice actors are perfect for the roles they were given.
Kingsley portrays a perfect Bagheera, a grumpy but wise, older jungle cat who knows the ins and the outs of the wilderness. Nyong’o is the perfect actress to portray a loving, strong-willed mother that will protect her children to the ends of the earth. Though Johansson is only in the movie briefly, her sultry voice makes you want to rethink your position on man-eating snakes. And Idris Elba did fantastically at shaking up the role of Shere Khan, making him more deathly serious and vengeful than just a posh, spiteful tiger who thinks he rules the jungle.
One of the best performances, though, had to be from Sethi, whose debut acting in this movie was pretty well done if you think about the fact he had to act with nothing/no one.
The entire movie was done on a soundstage. No real animals and no real locations were used when filming this movie, which when you actually see the movie is absolutely amazing to think about. Everything looks real and life-like, and though the animals in the film have facial features similar to their voice actors, you could actually mistake them for the real thing.
The only real qualms I had with this film were a few specific characters, mainly Murray and Walken.
Though Murray does an all right job as a self-satisfying bear, I feel like there could have been someone with a less-sarcastic tone to his voice.
Baloo is meant to be this bear that just lives life and enjoys all the bare (and bear) necessities given to him. However, we all know Murray as the wise-cracking smart ass, so it’s kind of difficult to see him take on a role that has a lot of weight to it, especially for those who grew up with the tale.
Walken’s performance as King Louie was not the best either. Louie is supposed to be this laid back, fun-loving orangutan who wants to be like other humans, but instead Walken’s serious take on the monkey makes him seem like a scary mob-boss lording over his gang of monkeys. Maybe I’m just saying this because of how I remember the character from the older movie, but still.
Overall, this movie is one of the better reboots of a classic tale. The effects are astonishing and well worth watching, and a majority of the performances from the voice actors bring a sense of lovely nostalgia to this film.
Whether you’re a ’90s kid living out the dream of seeing one of your favorite Disney movies brought to life, or just another movie-goer looking for something to watch, get yourself a ticket and go see “The Jungle Book,” and embrace the bare/bear necessities of life.