Despite the fact that it is a nostalgia-driven marketing endeavor, Disney’s latest live-action foray based off one of their animated classics works because it is filled with heart and offers enough in the way of ingenuity.
Much like its predecessor, “The Jungle Book” focuses on the young boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised by wolves. When the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens to kill him, his panther guardian Bagheera (voice of Sir Ben Kingsley) leads him on a quest to the man village where he’ll be safe. Along the way, they meet the villainous Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), the gigantic King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken) and the lovable Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).
Much of the plot remains intact from the animated film with one huge change near the film’s conclusion meant to make way for a sequel. The characters are pretty good CGI representations, full of identity, grace and beauty, and all of the voice actors are excellent (Idris Elba in particular).
The theme of man as a disease to nature works well and respect towards each other across species is a metaphor to our current culture. With a CGI-rendered world in the Indian jungle that treads a bit too much into the animated, the film is nevertheless engrossing, entertaining and full of Disney charm.
Two detriments to the story are inherent however. One is that the movie can not help but exist in the shadow of its predecessor. It tries to push out and be its own film at times, but with every rendition of “I Want to Be Like You”, the film reminds viewers that it is essentially a remake. The film then works as a companion piece to the original, but one can’t help but wonder what the final product would have looked like if director Jon Favreau had been able to create Kipling’s tale independent of the animated film.
The other is the manner of the making of the film. There is no actual jungle at all. Everything was shot in a Los Angeles sound studio. Every creature, tree, mountain is all computer-animated. It is the height of hypocrisy for a film whose moral is the preservation of nature to not actually feature any real nature in it. The film lacks grit and a sense of reality because of it.
But overall, the film is enjoyable, well-made and strong. It is the best live action from animated film released by Disney, and an argument can be made that it is even better than the original.