I’ll be honest. I don’t fully remember watching the Disney animated “The Jungle Book” as a kid. Sure, I’m sure that I watched it a few times as most of us do, but beyond the “Bare Necessities” I really don’t recall much about it.
So going into Jon Favreau’s 2016 live-action remake of the tale, I had a fairly clean slate. Immediately, you are confronted with the unmistakable reality that the CGI animals in this movie are AMAZING. We first see the wolf cubs and Bagheera(Sir Ben Kingsley) as they train with Mowgli(Neel Sethi) in the ways of the jungle. All is peaceful, more so when the jungle enters a “water truce” due to a drought, but even that doesn’t last once Shere Khan(Idris Elba) shows up and threatens the man-cub of the wolf pack.
Once Mowgli decides to leave, there isn’t much to the tale beyond the journey of the man-cub and his black panther escort, except for brief bursts of action when Shere Khan attacks and the pair are separated. From here on out we meet the seductive Kaa(Scarlet Johansson) and the lazy con-artist Baloo(Bill Murray) who convinces Mowgli to stick around to help him “prepare for hibernation.” After a confrontation with King Louie(Christopher Walken), Mowgli makes the choice to face Shere Khan and save the jungle from the terror of the tiger.
“The Jungle Book” was never an overly complicated plot to begin with. It’s a fairly easy to follow travelers tale with a heart based on self-actualization and the love of family, and this new adaptation doesn’t stray far from the path, except of the ending where Mowgli is still amongst the jungle rather than in the man-village in this version. It’s largest fault is that it attempts to shoehorn in the iconic “Bare Necessities” and Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You,” neither of which fit within the narrative since there is never an indication that musical antics are a place of this world at all. These two “songs” of the movie pull the viewer out of the world abruptly by being so out of place, but if that is the largest fault of this film, so be it.
The most magnificent part of the movie is the animals. Even a few years ago, the jungle animals would not have been rendered so beautifully through computer graphics, and the matching of the mouth movements to the words spoke by the creatures is completely in sync, truly a work of art here. Favreau created a beautiful graphic tableau with his take on “The Jungle Book,” and it is one that will be able to hold up against other adaptations of the material due to the sheer genius of the computer graphics in this version.