[Movie] The Jungle Book (2016)

Jungle BookIn light of the ongoing creative drought in Hollywood, it was hard to meet the latest adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling’s beloved children’s classic, The Jungle Book, with anything but scepticism. While the tale itself is no stranger to adaptation – since its publication in 1894, the story has seen numerous retellings, from author Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to Disney’s own animated classic – there was certainly an aura of exploitation surrounding the project. Perhaps, The Jungle Book was being reintroduced to popular culture because it brought with it very little risk of commercial failure – after all, with a star studded cast and a sizable special effects budget, how badly could a time-tested classic really fare? As it turns out, such cynicism was largely unwarranted; that star-studded cast consistently delivered riveting performances and it seemed like every cent of that special effects budget was put to excellent use in crafting a lush, vibrant world filled with mystery, danger and adventure. Ironically enough, it is the story itself that falls a little short in terms of narrative heft but makes up for it with plenty of heart and humour. (8/10)

The story The Jungle Book tells is one that ought to be familiar to most of the audience; Mowgli, an orphan boy, is raised by a pack of wolves but doesn’t quite fit in. When a tiger with a grudge against mankind returns to the jungle, Mowgli is forced to leave his foster family and return to humanity. The trouble with the story isn’t that it is particularly lacking in and of itself, but rather that the world that film creates for it feels wasted on such a simple story. The story suffices for its intended purpose; it gives the film a solid skeleton, one that its cast and visuals can then bring to life. The visuals themselves, a combination of computer generated magic and live-action acting, are nothing short of spectacular. The jungle itself is lush, rich and diverse; we see the jungle in its green grandeur but also when it’s shrivelled and dusty. The importance of this film’s setting cannot be overstated; it captures both the anxiety and anticipation of the unknown. The characters, apart from young newcomer Neel Sethi’s Mowgli, look amazing; human enough that they can convey emotion but animalistic enough that unless you stop to think about it, it’s all too easy to forget that all these beautifully rendered creatures were created in a little studio somewhere in Los Angeles.

The film is not without its weaknesses, however. There is plenty of homage to the film’s spiritual predecessors but not all of them work well in this medium; it is certainly odd to hear Bill Murray’s Baloo break out into song and it seems odd for Christopher Walken’s King Louie to be so much larger than every other living creature in the film. The acting is something of a mixed bag as well; while Idris Elba absolutely nails his portrayal as the menacing Shere Khan and Kingsley is as dignified as ever as Bagheera, Sethi’s inexperience vis-à-vis his co-stars is jarringly obvious while Scarlet Johansson and Giancarlo Esposito’s talents feel wasted in relatively minor roles. None of these weaknesses are enough to really hold the film back in any way; the film’s surreal, immersive visuals make than compensate for whatever it is that the story lacks. The cast each brings their unique personalities to the characters and end up creating warm, lovable partners for the audience on their journey through the jungle.

The Verdict: I have many fond memories of The Jungle Book cartoon from my own childhood, so it was with trepidation that went to watch this movie. It doesn’t have the same goofy charm that the cartoon had – and that’s perfectly fine. There’s still plenty of innocent charm to this movie and the visuals are just amazing. There’s a part of me that wants a sequel just so that we get to see more of that jungle brought to life.

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