by Sandra Kraisirideja
If I had to use one word to describe my state of mind prior to seeing The Jungle Book it would be “skeptical.”
The 2016 live-action update is directed by Jon Favreau and features the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling and Christopher Walken.
The Jungle Book is the debut feature of Indian-American actor Neel Sethi. Despite the amazing pedigree of actors in the movie, Sethi is actually the only human on screen.
I did not have a lot of faith that a live-action version of the animated movie—based on the book series by Rudyard Kipling—would be good. The effects-heavy update seemed like one huge gimmick. OK, let me add “cynical” to the list of emotions I felt.
When I saw the trailer for the 2016 update I felt the overall vibe of the film was more action-adventure and not a buddy movie or even a coming-of-age tale.
The original Jungle Book, released in 1967, is bright, cheerful and fun. The 2016 version looked dark, foreboding and more interested in big action set pieces. When I think of The Jungle Book it is the sweet relationship between Mowgli and his animal friends Baloo and Bagheera that stands out.
With my doubts firmly in place it would be Favreau’s job to win me over.
I’m happy to report that I found myself smiling within the first five minutes and Favreau did win me over. Despite the way the movie is being marketed, Favreau’s Jungle Book is still sweet and Sethi is a true find. His Mowgli is bright, kind and a joy to watch.
The voice actors all do phenomenal work and the motion capture technique used for the animals is incredibly lifelike.
Thankfully, screenwriter Justin Marks keeps the basic story of The Jungle Book the same. Mowgli, the man-cub raised by wolves, is hunted by the Tiger Shere Khan (Elba) and must make his way to a nearby village for his own safety. He is helped in his journey by the black panther Bagheera (Kingsley) and a carefree bear named Baloo (Murray).
Mowgli learns to embrace his unique human abilities and still be a part of the jungle community. What I appreciate about this update is Favreau’s decision to boost the visual aspects of the story where it makes sense. He doesn’t go overboard with the digital effects. Fans of the original will notice Favreau interprets the scene with King Louie the most.
I also like that Marks doesn’t use the movie to talk about more contemporary topics like global warming, wildlife preservation or man’s encroachment on nature. This is still a great movie for kids who are eight and up. Mowgli is the ultimate free-range child who turns out alright.