I’ve been a fan of The House Of Mouse most of my entire life. Disney consistently produces fantastic films of wide varieties, from their world class animation to their Marvel Studios Division. Having said that, I am still not on board with these live action reboots of their classic animated films. Maleficent was so close to being great but was ultimately ruined by its internal problems: a terrible and boring second act and no one else being able to hold a candle to Angelina Jolie’s ferocious presence. And in comparison, Cinderella (2015) was dull and just god awful. The Jungle Book (2016) is the next of these live action remakes, but almost certainly not the last. Despite being the third highest grossing movie of 2016, The Jungle Book is, unfortunately, another misstep in the Disney Animated Remake Live Action Canon (that’s a mouthful).
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you should know the plot is basically a reworking of the 1967 Disney classic of the same name, which in itself is a much gentler and “Disnified™” version of Rudyard Kipling’s racist imperialist story. Bear with me because it's pretty dumb (get it? bear with me? ‘cause of the song? God, that was terrible). Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human child, was found mysteriously in the jungle by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a black panther. Instead of eating Mowgli and saving everyone a ton of pain and heartache later on, Bagheera decides to take him to the wolves. Ok. The wolves raise him until Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a ferocious Bengal tiger with a serious bone to pick with Mowgli, wants him dead. Mowgli decides that instead of staying with the wolf pack, the best thing would be to outcast himself to the human village despite not having any knowledge of human civilization, language, or family. Thus, the journey begins as Bagheera and Mowgli set off to the human village to outrun the dangerous Shere Khan.
A silly plot can often be forgiven, but the film is further marred by its lead actor; Neel Sethi (Mowgli) is not a very good actor. I’m sure some people will try to pass off his bad acting as “cute” or “endearing,” but it’s cringe-inducing at times. That’s not to say he’s as bad as Anakin Skywalker, no far from it. Although you become desensitized to his acting as the film goes on, it's still very noticeable. Thankfully, his shoddy performance is buoyed by the two best things about the film: voice acting and visuals. This film continues Disney’s superb tradition of excellent voice acting.
Jon Favreau is not necessarily known for his visual prowess as a director, but the visuals are definitely the best thing about this movie. The animals talk, emote, and feel real. The rage Shere Khan feels about Mowgli’s continued existence is palpable whenever the tiger occupies the screen. The jungle and landscapes are all vividly colorful and beautifully animated. The action can get muddled during some of the faster sequences especially toward the end, but it's not bad at all, and can be easily followed despite some annoying shaky cam sequences.
Now I’d like to talk about the parts of the movie that annoyed me the most: the film’s internal contradictions. I know it’s a children’s movie, but adults still have to see it with them, so I’m going to give The Jungle Book an honest review.
As the film begins, Bagheera tells us that he gives Mowgli to the wolves to be raised, and they don’t eat him either. Fine. They raise him to be a wolf and try to suppress his “man tricks” like building things and being creative. Fine. But they also instill in him that he is a wolf and part of their pack, which sticks together no matter what. So, it's puzzling to me that they came to an agreement, so quickly, to outcast Mowgli (even if he did volunteer). Furthermore, when Shere Khan brutally murders Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), the pack leader, in front of the entire wolf pack, they do nothing. They just glare at him angrily. I’ve already mentioned that it’s quite illogical to take Mowgli away from the wolves, the only family he has known, to the human village where he would likely be even more of an outcast but it does bear repeating.
The film thinks it’s more clever than it really is by setting up a man-as-creator-and-destroyer motif that could not be more on the nose. Throughout the film we see Mowgli trying to repress his creative side but it is allowed to flourish when away from the wolves. When Bagheera learns about this he chastises him for not acting like a proper animal of the jungle. In addition, he is warned about the dangerous destructive power of the “red flower” (fire). All the animals seem to know that only humans can make it, which is why they wanted to suppress Mowgli’s creative side in the first place. In the end, deciding he’s going to stand up to Shere Khan after finding out about Akela’s murder, Mowgli steals a torch from the human village and runs through the forest to confront Shere Khan. In the process of doing this, he literally burns down most of the jungle. Shere Khan, while a dangerous and repulsive villain, has a point: this “man-cub” is extremely dangerous. Yet instead of letting Shere Khan just eat Mowgli, the animals decide to fight him….for Mowgli…. who is actively burning down their home. Is one “man-cub” really worth risking the entire jungle and most of the animals lives?
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Look, the film has grossed over 900 million dollars worldwide so chances are you’ve already seen it. My opinion won’t sway you nor will it hurt any Disney executives’ feelings. The film is just mindless visual entertainment and worse, it's shallower than it thinks it is. Sure it's fun, has great visuals, and talking animals that will undoubtedly entertain young ones but it is brought down by its poor lead actor, internal contradictions, and a head-scratcher of an ending. Its poor fundamentals are ultimately held together by a fantastic Disney budget which is way more than any bear necessity (I’ll see myself out now).
TLDR: The Jungle Book is a visually stunning and entertaining movie with great voice acting that fails to disguise its silly plot, poor lead actor, and internal contradictions. 3/5 Stars.