The Jungle Book, for me it’s an animated film Disney put out way back in 1967 but the powers that be have decided to change all this with two new live action feature films from competing companies. You see, Disney and Warner Bros. don’t have enough to battle over with their comic book genre films, so now we have The Jungle Book from Disney which hits theaters this Friday, April 15th in North America and Warner Bros. Jungle Book: Origins (though IMDB drops the “Origins” part of the title) set to drop in October 2018. I want to explain this so there is no confusion because the stories are different, the casts are different, the movies are different. Warner Bros’ film will star Christian Bale (Bagheera), Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan), Cate Blanchett (Kaa), Andy Serkis (Baloo), and Roham Chand (Mowgli). To contrast, this year’s Disney version stars Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Bill Murray (Baloo), and Neel Sethi (Mowgli) with Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela), and Christopher Walken (King Louie). With well over two years before we see WB’s incarnation, I expect more roles to be filled but for now, these are the primary casts.
So let’s talk about The Jungle Book from Disney. I was able to catch an early screening Monday night in 3D. My goal here is to talk about overall quality and expectations you should have going into the movie and will avoid spoilers. Things that have been shown in trailers\previews might get mentioned though, so you’ve been warned.
As I noted, I saw The Jungle Book in 3D. I felt that overall, the 3D experience was solid and less gimmicky than most. That is not to say it’s without gimmick but for the most part, it was immersive and sharp. I enjoyed the extra sense of depth it provided and it reminded me of the ways Avatar used 3D a while back. Now, the 3D does fail during major scenes of movement and action. There are two scenes in particular that I am thinking of, one involving Mowgli running and another involving a lot of primates. In both cases, the CGI lost its crisp realistic style and the 3D lost its immersive sense. The former scene even included one of my pet peeves which is when water is splashed and it hits the camera lens like we are watching the movie through a window. This bothers me in 2D films but when the goal is a 3D experience that feels immersive and includes depth… why would you put a window in front of me? It seems counter-intuitive. The primate scene in question made me think of the barrel scene in The Hobbit, though this one is not nearly as bad.
The CGI in general was stellar. I felt that the animals consistently looked realistic and even moved as such. Even though the animals can talk, they are not overly anthropromophized. They are just animals that we happen to be able to understand. I never felt that the animals were poorly done and the CGI weaknesses in the two scenes I noted might have been unique to the 3D experience. I intend to see the movie again in 2D, so I’m looking forward to comparing.
The cast is nearly perfect. Bill Murray, of course, nails Baloo but no one is surprised at this. I love Bill Murray and will watch just about anything he is in but this character isn’t much of a stretch for him, though I’m not complaining. Idris Elba is a fearsome, intense Shere Khan and I can’t imagine Benedict Cumberbatch getting close to matching Idris’ presence. I think my favorite scene is actually Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa. Though short, the scene is powerful, intense, creepy, and the voice work is great. She’s perfect for the role and I’m glad they went in the direction they did with the character. Everyone else did a great job. Bagheera, Raksha, and Akela are not in the film as much as I would have liked but then again, the wolves don’t have anywhere near as much of a presence in the original animated film, so I should be grateful. Neel Sethi as Mowgli is fine but fairly forgettable. It’s his first role and is credited as an introduction, so I am not going to be overly critical here. He’s young and inexperienced, so I look forward to seeing his future roles.
The only issue I take with casting is Christopher Walken as King Louie. It just doesn’t work. While I loved him in various roles like Pulp Fiction or even Click, he does not work as King Louie. His voice is too Walken-esque. The character’s song isn’t even a song in this incarnation because Walken isn’t really going to sing, so he speaks it. It just doesn’t work. He’s not intimidating, he’s not threatening and the voice does not match the visual of the character.
The Jungle Book: Conclusions
The Jungle Book is a great live action adaptation of the original story that, if memory serves me, stays true at least to the major components while expanding on some in ways to enhance the story. The special effects are realistic, accurate, and impressive throughout most of the film while the voice cast is nearly perfect. I think the film suffers from two primary issues, the push of 3D and the star-studded cast. 3D can be fun but it’s usually completely unnecessary and I think this is an example of that. The 3D gets in the way, lowers CGI quality, and becomes distracting or completely forgettable. The all-star cast is a lot of fun but also distracting because you know Bill Murray is the bear and Scarlett Johansson is the snake. It pulls you out of the experience at times.
Overall, I give the film 3.5\5 UFOs. It’s a good movie and better than I expected for a live action interpretation but there is room for improvement.
Are you looking forward to The Jungle Book? Have you seen it yet? Comment below!