Before you ask — Yes. Disney has every intention of adapting every single one of their iconic animated classics into a big budget live action adventure for new audiences (probably right before they start adapting all of their live action movies into animation).
Disney’s “The Jungle Book” follows in the tradition of “Cinderella” and “Maleficent”, making that jump the the live action arena and the results, as with pretty much all of the others, is a mixed bag. The biggest problem is the movie just doesn’t know if it wants to scare the hell out of your kids or send them home smiling. Let’s do this.
Is this an adaptation of the animated Disney movie or the book by Rudyard Kipling?
Wait, I’m confused…
You’re not alone. Confused perfectly sums up this movie. I don’t even need to review it anymore. Thank you. Good night, kids!
I don’t understand.
This is a fairly straight up adaptation of the animated classic, with a bit of the book thrown in just to ground it and make it a little scarier (at least according to producers). You’ve got Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a boy who was lost in the scary jungle and raised as a wolf cub. It might have been better if the lone human in the movie was a bit stronger actor, and Sethi does a nice job, especially considering he really just had green screens and props to interact with during filming, but his in experience shows, especially during tense and emotional moments.
There is a big, bad, mean Tiger named Shere Kahn who doesn’t like this man-cub lingering around, thinks when he grows up to be a man-man, he’s gonna come back with fire and destroy everything…because that’s what people do. When Mowgli decides to leave the wolf pack, he finds out the jungle is even more dangerous than he ever dreamed.
Well, I loved the original…how does this measure up?
This is where trouble comes into Denmark. Director Jon Favreau has had a lot of success with family oriented adventures from “Jumanji” to “Iron Man” and even “Elf”. At first, you’d think this would be pretty easy to adapt. Set phasers for kid friendly audience, throw in a few subtle jokes for moms and dads, some fun, silly action and — well, just because it seems easy doesn’t mean it is. Instead, Disney and/or Favreau tried to cobble something together that would delight and entertain the little ones and frighten and excite the big kids at the same time. The end product is maddeningly uneven movie that just never finds any balance between the light moments and the darker and scarier moments.
How is the voice cast?
It’s Disney, so of course our favorite animal characters are brought to life by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Some have more success than others at bringing their respective jungle animal to life. Idris Elba, easily one of the most awesome and bad ass dudes in Hollywood is scary but disappointingly one-note as the villainous Shere Kahn; Lupita Nyong’o (“Twelve Years a Slave”) and Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) are serviceable as Mowgli’s adopted wolf parents; and of course Scarlett Johansson is deliciously seductive, but underused as the voice of Kaa, the great snake. Unfortunately, and I can’t believe the world has come to a place where I’m saying this but — the movie falls apart around the time Bill Murray shows up.
Oh man, I love Bill Murray — wait — what??
Yeah. Bill Murray is great, but up until this point, the movie establishes a bit of a darker, more mature atmosphere than you might expect, especially for a PG movie. Then Mowgli gets lost and Baloo finds him and Bill Murray is just….well, Bill Murray. Not that that’s EVER a bad thing. But it just doesn’t vibe. It does lighten the mood, that’s for sure. Up until this point, it’s a pretty bleak affair. But this is also where the film stalls a bit because it’s almost a complete 180 from the build up to this point. It’s as if the filmmakers were like, ‘oh yeah, this is for kids, let’s add a little song and dance and some funny jokes’ but it just doesn’t feel right.
Please at least tell me he signs “Bear Necessities”!
You really want me to spoil the surprise. As you watch, it becomes clear this isn’t the kind of movie where animals are going to just spontaneously break into song, like they do in the real world, it’s just a little too dark for that — and then Bill Murray shows up and yeah — and it’s nice. But then King Louie shows up, and he’s voiced by Christopher Walken…and things get kinda weird, and scary again, but still kinda funny, but mostly oddly uncomfortable. Again, there’s a balance here between the light and the dark, the humor and the frights that Favreau just wasn’t able to find.
How about the special effects?
I’m not real big on a movie being nearly 100% CGi, except for the one human character as this is…but my opinion may be skewed just a bit by the fact I saw this in 3D and that nearly ruined the look of the movie. The crappy 3D conversion darkens an already dimly lit movie and the action, especially when Mowgli is running through the jungle, with is pretty much 75% of the flick, is blurry and hard to watch. Otherwise, the environments look incredible. The effects never feel too cartoon-y or false like you know — ahem, the “Star Wars” prequels — but the 3D makes it hard to watch.
Final thoughts: Man, this is a tough one. I enjoyed the movie, saw it with my 13 y.o. daughter, who liked it quite a bit too, although she loves dark and scary, so it was right up her alley. But younger more impressionable kids might have a tough time with some of the scary images and the intensity — it’s a surprise this movie is only rated PG — but there are some nice moments and some genuinely exciting scenes, but it’s far too confused about what it wants to be. Just avoid the 3D upcharge!!
Release date: April 15, 2016
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Marks
Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, and Bill Murray
MPAA rating: Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril
Running time: 1 hour 45 mins.