By Blake Nelson
This time period is probably the best to remake and update “The Jungle Book.” On the one hand you have all of the people who grew up with the original animated Disney film coming into real adult money and a load of nostalgia; nearly everybody from my generation can sing “The Bare Necessities.” And on the other hand you have CGI animation being near lifelike — advancements laid out by “Avatar” and others like it have invigorated the CGI kick.
Beyond the hotbed of cultural history the movie has to draw from, the creators and director Jon Favreau have made a beautiful and fun movie.
As the film opens with beautiful shots of the jungle and Mowgli running with the very well-animated wolves, you think the film is going to present you with stunning visual sequences. As Bhageera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) enters, you’re sure of it.
The story of Mowgli and “The Jungle Book” for the most part is known to all. Very little is changed in this retelling, and most likely for the better, as it’s a fun story with a good story arc and lovable characters.
What is new is the voice acting, all of which is done wonderfully well. This is especially true for Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, which accomplishes being both menacing and intelligent, making for a very effective villain.
Baloo and King Louie are also cast extremely well. Murray plays his sarcastic self in the role of Baloo, but also pulls off some touching moments that really lend to the character. And the casting of Christopher Walken as King Louie was a stroke of pure genius; Walken pulls off the oddities of an ape that wants to be like a man with his own sort of strangeness. Not only are these great choices for the character, but the two actors’ near-mythic status in pop culture really helps drive home the point of updating the “The Jungle Book.”
Beyond casting, all of the animation is detailed and awesome — the scene with Mowgli riding on Baloo’s stomach looks as close to lifelike as I have seen. This is also the only movie in 3-D thus far that I would urge someone to see in 3-D; it’s that pretty.
Really, one of the only bad parts, regrettably, was the acting by Neel Sethi, who played Mowgli. It was at times stiff, even for a child actor. Also, even though Scarlett Johansson was only in the film for a few minutes, it felt as if her being in the film was unnecessary, as well as the character of Kaa in general. The appearance was so short-lived and Johansson’s voice acting was so distracting that they could have left the whole scene out.
Beyond acting and some minor plot issues, the film proved to be a fun, yet mature watch that I would recommend to anyone who wants a light and exciting film to watch. Of course to get the full visual effect, you’ll have to see it in 3-D.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.