Review: The Jungle Book

BKAllmighty This is my two cents on the 2016 live-action/computer animated film, ‘The Jungle Book’, directed and co-produced by Jon Favreau, co-produced by Brigham Taylor, with a screenplay penned by Justin Marks that is based on the original novel by Rudyard Kipling as well as the 1967 Walt Disney Animated Classic film of the same name.

For starters:

‘The Jungle Book’ is the eighth film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s works (the original novel is a collection of stories, not a single narrative). If you include the 2003 DisneyToon Studios film, ‘The Jungle Book 2’, which acts as a sequel to the 1967 film, then, obviously, there have been nine adaptations produced thus far. Oddly enough, Warner Bros. is currently producing their own adaptation that is expected to reach theatres by 2018 and is going to be directed by Andy Serkis (Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings, etc.) in his directorial debut. It will also make extensive use of computer animated animals and environments and will be based entirely on the novel and not on the original animated film (obviously). Think that it's unusual that another studio wants to adapt a book so soon after another studio just adapted it? You’re not alone. But, more on that later.

Critical Reception:

The film has received universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has so far received a rating of 94%, based on 200 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8 out of 10. Metacritic has given the film a rating of 77 out of 100, based on the opinions of 47 critics, while on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) the film has received a rating of 8.1 out of 10 based on the ratings of over 30,400 users (all data was acquired on April 20th and is likely to change).

A Synopsis of the Film:

Mowgli (played by newcomer, Neel Sethi), is a feral child who was left abandoned in the jungle at a very young age, and has since been raised by a pack of wolves (led by the leader of the pack, Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and Mowgli’s adoptive mother, Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o)), with the aid of Bagheera (a black panther voiced by Ben Kingsley), who was the one who discovered him years ago.

After a dry season hits the jungle, all of the animals gather together at Peace Rock to drink from the last remaining waterhole. They form a “Water Truce” that enables every animal to come in peace and drink without the threat of predatory harm. But the truce is disrupted when Sheer Khan (a Bengal tiger voiced by Idris Elba), voices his intentions to kill Mowgli once rain brings an end to the dry season. His distrust towards “man” being the primary reason for his villainous intent (his last encounter with a man led him to be disfigured by fire (known as the “red flower”to the jungle animals)). As a result of this threat, Mowgli decides to leave the pack to protect his wolf family from Sheer Khan, who is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way of hunting down the “man cub”.

While he initially travels alongside Bagheera to rejoin his own kind at the nearest man village, they become separated and his travels becomes increasingly complicated and convoluted. Along the way he encounters the friendly Baloo (a brown bear voiced by Bill Murray), the power-hungry King Louie (a Gigantopithecus voiced by Christopher Walken), and the hypnotic Kaa (an enormous Indian python voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in a captivating adventure of self-discovery, redemption, and bravery.

My Thoughts:

As a life-long fan of the 1967 film, and as someone who has wanted to read the original book for years (I’ll get to it eventually), I can happily say that this film was satisfying in just about every way that it could have been. Firstly, the animation is stunning. It is easily some of the best-looking CGI since ‘Avatar’(and is in the same category as ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Gravity’, and ‘The Walk’), and (like the aforementioned films) it showcases absolutely phenomenal 3D imagery.

While a movie can be worth watching from just a visual standpoint, this film, thankfully, flaunts a wonderfully-written story that would carry the film on its own even if the visuals were less-than-stellar. The characters are well-developed, the plot is rich, and there’s always time enough for a good bit of humour here and there to keep the story from getting too grim.

Of course, many thanks should be given to the stellar voice cast. I can honestly say that every single casting decision was 100% on the mark. I’d give extra credit to Murray, Kingsley, and Elba, who made each of their individual roles their own in a way that still kept them true to each of their respective 1967 counterparts. That is a triumphant accomplishment in and of itself. Jon Favreu’s direction is also to be lauded, I’d say, since it takes a steady-handed director to combine each of these elements as seamlessly as they were presented on screen.

Positives aside, there are a few things that are noteworthy that I should address regarding issues I had with the film (no movie is perfect, remember).

Sethi, whose only ever acted in one film (this one), does a remarkable job considering that his entire performance was done on a green screen set with not a single physical co-star to help mould his performance. He does, however – like most young child actors, find himself slipping a bit when it comes to delivering his lines convincingly. A few moments occur where you just have to say to yourself “He IS just a child, after all.” and move on. Having said that, though, it is a rarity and is easily forgettable thanks to the other 99% of the film being amazing. There. I said it. It was painful but I said it.

The other concern I have for the film is the rating. This film is NOT appropriate for most people under the age of 10, and I am not being prude. There are numerous occasions during the film that would have terrified me as a child. I witnessed a number of stupid parents who actually took their children to see ‘Deadpool’ a couple of months ago and I, as a result of that, am insisting that anyone on the site who has children (I am guessing there aren’t many) and is planning on taking them to see this movie makes darn sure that their children are old enough or mature enough for a movie that is (at most) one or two scenes shy of having a PG-13 rating. I’d say that anyone 6 and under shouldn’t even be allowed into the theatre, it is that frightening. This is NOT the 1967 film.

A Highlight of the film:

The biggest accomplishment of the film is the CGI and 3D imagery, of course, but if I had to peg one scene as the highlight, I’d say that the King Louis sequence was my favourite moment. There is actually a very cleverly-placed SNL (Saturday Night Live) joke in there that would have had me laughing out loud had there not been a theatre full of people around me. They actually have Mowgli sort through a pile of human objects and pick up a black COWBELL before King Louie makes his entrance. Anyone who has no idea of what I am talking about simply has to Google “More Cowbell” to understand the humour of this moment.

A Low-light of the film (sort of):

Again, with the negatives, right? Why couldn’t I write a purely-positive review, right? Well,sorry. I'm just being honest. The only other complaint I have is that they want to make a sequel to this film. I am normally not against the idea of sequels when a movie is deserving of one but in this case I honestly feel like there is nothing a sequel could bring to the picture that would improve upon this film in any way. It’s basically everything we needed. Plus, considering that the guys over at WB are bringing us their own adaptation of ‘The Jungle Book’ in two years makes the idea of having a THIRD movie on the horizon sound all the more unnecessary. Let’s not overdo this. OK, fellas?

Final Thoughts:

It’s enthralling, it’s intense,it’s visually stunning, and it’s impeccably cast. It’s a lot of things that I love and I will be seeing this again in theatres, I assure you (and in 3D, I might add – it’s essential that it be viewed in 3D).

I give this movie a very solid 9 out of 10.

To conclude this review I will leave you with a message directed at the executives over at Disney:

Dear billionaire business men,

I am writing this open letter to you in hopes that you can actually make something magical out of this situation.

Please release this movie on 3D Blu-ray. I know you have been in a weird state of mind, lately, that has you thinking that the whole of North America (and anyone else who lives where Region 1/A discs are sold) is OK with not owning 3D copies of your cinematic works. While, yes, we’re surviving without 3D copies of ‘Frozen’, ‘Maleficent’, Planes: Fire & Rescue’, ‘Big Hero 6’, and are not expecting a 3D release for ‘Zootopia’, we are simply not going to be OK with not getting this movie on 3D Blu-ray. It will not be acceptable. This movie was MADE for 3D, and not releasing it in that format when it becomes available on home video will make a lot of people very angry, I am sure. It is important to note that I wanted to own copies of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Big Hero 6’ but chose not to when they were not made available in my preferred format. So, I will continue to not buy your movies when they are not made available in the same high-quality format that they were supposed to be viewed in.

Thank you and enjoy counting your home video earnings (none of which will be coming from me),