By Miranda Dellamaria
Full disclosure before I give my review: The Jungle Book was definitely my favorite Disney movie as a kid. It was definitely a weird one to like. There were none of the typical Disney features in it — no princes or princesses, no magical curses to overcome, and definitely no romance — but it did have at its core the Disney-typical theme of resiliency and a promise of great adventure. Remakes of films are always going to be measured against the originals they are based off of, and this perhaps is what so often causes them to be failures at worst and sort of annoying at best. However, the new Jungle Book manages to not only keep the spirit of its predecessor but expand the cartoonish two-dimensional setting of the original into an entirely new world.
The most remarkable thing about The Jungle Book is the CGI used. The gimmick of this remake is that instead of mimicking the animation style of the original, everything in this version is made to look as realistic as possible. The huge waterfalls and vast forests are arresting visuals to witness, even if all of the animals do look slightly off. It’s not that they look fake, per say, but there is a sort of otherworldly quality to all of the animals on screen. Interestingly, this offsets the fact that Mowgli is the only character to be played by an actual actor (Neel Sethi in his first onscreen role) but still shares that same otherworldliness. He always seems just a bit too well-lit in the darkness of the jungle, and the effect causes viewers to question whether or not anything they’re watching is even real.
The Jungle Book’s cast is full of A-listers who are able to elevate the somewhat humorous plotline to new dramatic heights. Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Christopher Walken all lend their voices to the animals of the jungle. Christopher Walken has a particularly funny turn as King Louie, in which he makes a satirical homage to Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from the film Apocalypse Now. Surprisingly, Bill Murray is actually the flaw of the cast. His portrayal of Baloo is very funny, but he’s not much of a singer, and ends up butchering what is arguably the film’s best song: “The Bear Necessities.”
Ultimately, The Jungle Book manages to elevate the typical movie remake model by expanding on the world originally established while also maintaining the spirit of the first film. The cast manages to be both hilarious and terrifying by turn, while Neel Sethi shines as Mowgli in his first film ever. If singing animals just really aren’t your thing, just go for the incredible wide shots of the jungle and a bear more realistically animated than the one that attacked Leo in The Revenant.
Final Score: 4 & ½ stars out of 5