I grew up in the 1990s, so all the classic Disney movies I had were on VHS (much thanks to my wonderful parents). Therefore, I grew up on the animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, so I was not sure what I was really expecting. All I knew was that it had great potential with the cast, and that last year’s Cinderella was a very good remake.
Once again, Disney scores rather big with another live action version. Directed by Jon Favreau (who made Elf and the first two Iron Man films, among others), it is one of the very few remakes to not only pay tribute to the original, but stand on its own. When I heard it was all made in a studio in Los Angeles, my respect grew even more.
For those who don’t know the story (which is unlikely), The Jungle Book tells the tale of a “man-cub” named Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi, in a very fine debut). He is raised by wolves (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) and is also cared after by a panther named Bagheera (the always perfect Ben Kingsley). With Bagheera, Mowgli must go back to the man villiage before he is killed by the sadistic tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). There is also Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray), who becomes Mowgli’s best friend, the giant serpent Kaa (seductivly played by Scarlett Johanson,) and King Louie the giant ape (that fantastic actor known as Christopher Walken).
I now look back at some of the casting from the 1967 animated film. King Louie was voiced by Louis Prima, and his song “I wanna be like you” is one I am not afraid to admit is still on my phone. Still, Walken had me cracking up, and his rendition was his own (including some new lyrics). Anyone who knows the animated film knows the theme song of “The Bare Necessities” which I am still convinced no one should sing except Phil Harris. Nevertheless, few actors can conjur charm like Bill Murray, and his singing of the song almosted reminded me of his days back on SNL.
Yet of all the casting done in the live action version, my favorite would be Idris Elba as Shere Khan. The animated version had that wonderful actor George Sanders as the tiger (his voice was like that of Jeremy Irons, who of course was Scar in The Lion King), but Sanders’ Khan had very little screen time. This is not the case with the live action version. Every time Shere Khan was on-screen, I had that feeling that my hair on my arms may stand on end. That is not something that happens often with me when I see a villain, be it a Disney villian or not.
While all the actors are great, the CGI was impeccable. It reminded me of when I was a kid, and thought all the animals were real in the classic film Babe (1995). I may get in trouble for this, but I thought the CGI in The Jungle Book was better than it was in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There I said it!
Parents, there is some scary parts, but it is the good type of scary parts for kids. They may hold on to your arms, but if your kids have seen at least one superhero flick before, they will be fine with this film.
The movie never says it out loud, but it does say how Mowgli has one thing no other animal in the jungle has: wit. That is what makes this film great. It has wit.
And fun. Lots of it.
Overall: Four Stars ****