It seems as if we are now in full swing remake mode as Disney is now updating their animated classics with the live action treatment on a yearly basis. Last year’s Cinderella proved that, while redundant, this can still be a relatively pleasant experience for old and new audiences. With Beauty and the Beast on tap for next year, we’d better get used to seeing our childhood films recreated.
The latest Disney classic to get the reboot treatment is the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The story itself has seemingly been done to death over the past century, but the Disney animated version is hard to forget. The catchy songs and solid voice cast helped ingrain it in our minds, giving this new film some lofty expectations to live up to. Luckily, the film has a strong director at the helm (Jon Favreau) and a wonderful team of CGI artists to help make this new version just as memorable.
For anyone who’s been living under a rock, The Jungle Book tells the story of talking animals and Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy found as a baby in the jungle by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kinglsey) who entrusts him to a family of wolves. After a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill the outsider, Bagheera and Mowgli’s wolf parents (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) decide it best to return Mowgli to a nearby village where he can be with other humans. On their journey, they encounter an easy going bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a hypnotizing snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and sly monkey king, Louie (Christopher Walken), who wants the boy to teach him how to create fire.
While the story won’t feel new to anyone who isn’t in grade school, the film manages to feel refreshing from start to finish. This is due in part to a well crafted script that manages to make slight adjustments to make the story match the realness of its imagery. And the imagery is stunning, but this should be no surprise as Disney is known to spare no expense for their films. The animals are animated to look as real as possible, and the jungle scenery is breathtaking.
But the number one reason that this new version of The Jungle Book is an absolute triumph that now has me excited and eager for more animation remakes, is due to the awesome cast. Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kinglsey all bring a beautiful nobility to their roles as Mowgli’s guardians while Scarlett Johansson is fittingly hypnotic in limited screen time. Neel Sethi is perhaps the weakest link as Mowgli, but that is mainly due to the fact that he’s a child actor. Considering the fact that he’s essentially the only non-CGI character in the movie, he actually does a remarkable job as well.
There are two actors who unsurprisingly steal the show. Bill Murray manages to bring even more charm and charisma to the character of Baloo than we saw in the iconic 1967 animated version. As for Shere Khan, the best movies have the best villains, and Idris Elba owns every second the character is in. From the moment the imposing tiger enters the film, he brings an intimidating, yet captivating aura that makes you absolutely love him.
Yes, Hollywood needs to take chances on original ideas more. Pretty much every blockbuster is a sequel or a remake. But if Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book is any indication of the quality Disney is putting into these live action updates, then by all means keep them coming. Pretty much the only flaw to this movie is the shoe horned songs in the second half that turn the movie back into a musical all of a sudden. But even they work for nostalgia’s sake. I originally cringed at the idea of seeing my childhood favorites recreated, but after watching this movie, I honestly say bring on a CGI recreation of The Lion King next.
FINAL GRADE: A