“The Jungle Book” was released in digital 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters this past weekend.
Jon Favreau (director of the first two “Iron Man” films, “Chef,” and “Cowboys & Aliens”) and Justin Marks (writer of “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li”) have collaborated with an incredibly impressive voice cast to reboot the 1967 animated Walt Disney Pictures classic “The Jungle Book” as a live-action/computer generated hybrid.
A human boy named Mowgli (the feature film debut of Neel Sethi), referred to as “man-cub” the entire film, is raised by an Indian wolf known as Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and is included and treated like one of the pack led by Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito). Humans are treated very delicately in the jungle by the other animals since their destructive nature and desire to introduce fire (aka the “red flower”) to the jungle keeps the animals cautious at all times. A scarred Bengal tiger named Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) voices his disapproval of the man-cub and his desire to viciously kill Mowgli since he has no place there in Shere Khan’s eyes.
Mowgli leaves the pack to protect the only family he’s ever known. The black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) has watched over Mowgli since he was a baby and claims Mowgli’s only option is to retreat to the man-village where he can be amongst his kind. Instead Mowgli stumbles onto the lazy and very hungry bear named Baloo (Bill Murray). It’s with Baloo that Mowgli is able to sharpen the “tricks” that Akela and Bagheera have always forbidden him to use. Just as Mowgli begins to feel as if he has a purpose away from his family, Shere Khan commits a despicable act which forces Mowgli to return and face the menacing tiger in a final confrontation.
Idris Elba is fantastic as Shere Khan. While you only hear his voice, you can hear the intimidation in his tone, feel the character’s wicked intentions in his delivery, and admire how comfortable Elba is in such villainous skin. The character has received many comparisons to Scar from “The Lion King” and it’s not unwarranted, but Idris Elba has been on this unstoppable roll ever since last year’s “Beasts of No Nation.” “The Jungle Book” is the second of five films Elba is featured in this year and the second Disney film to feature his voice with a third coming later this year with “Finding Dory.” Elba makes such a captivating villain, animated or otherwise, and it’s quite rewarding to see the 43-year-old English actor able to showcase how talented he truly is.
Bill Murray also brings his usual eccentric flair to the voice of Baloo. While Baloo originally only cares about how much he sleeps and eats between now and his next nap, the bear warms up to Mowgli and realizes how special he is. While Murray injects humor into his line delivery and brings the bear to life in a big way, you can’t help but think he’s just being himself which makes the performance all the more satisfying.
The fantasy adventure film is fairly entertaining for the first 45 minutes or so. The scenes where Mowgli is running through the jungle with his bare feet slapping against horizontal tree trunks and swinging from vines that swoop down from the sky and hang in his face are quite impressive and the initial confrontation between Bagheera and Shere Khan that bleeds into the stampede sequence is also dramatically absorbing. However something happens along the way that makes the entire experience monotonous and underwhelming. It’s somewhere wedged into the sequence where Mowgli is introduced to the Bornean orangutan (that you better refer to as a Gigantopithecus) King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken). From that point on, everything just feels predictable and familiar territory that Disney has covered a dozen times prior.
The songs in the film are somewhat awkward. Bill Murray’s version of “Bare Necessities” is amusing, but Christopher Walken’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” feels forced and Scarlett Johansson’s (who voices the hypnotizing Indian python Kaa, a male character in the original) “Trust in Me” is thrown on top of the end credits. The ending is one of the most satisfying parts of the film as it features the original book from the 1967 film and the animals from the live-action film jump out of it as the pages turn like a pop-up book.
Certain aspects of the film are overwhelmingly corny like the wolf pack oath known as the law of the jungle that you’re forced to hear at least three or four times throughout the film’s 105-minute duration. Mowgli in general can be fairly overbearing with how whiny the character is. However, the sequence where Baloo is instructing Mowgli on how to get honey is perhaps the most entertaining of the entire film and it’s mostly because of the three animals, a pygmy hog, a giant squirrel, and a pangolin, arguing with Baloo over the man-cub they’re convinced is a hairless monkey. While the sequence is only a few minutes long, it is the best comic relief the film has to offer.
“The Jungle Book” is a visually impressive adventure with a stellar cast. Idris Elba and Bill Murray are utterly tremendous in their roles, but the film offers nothing new if you’re familiar with the original 1967 animated film in the slightest. The film drags in between Shere Khan’s pursuit of Mowgli as the film’s visual flair and enticing charm wears off entirely too quickly.