2016’s The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens), clearly distinguishes itself as a remake of the titular 1967 classic Disney animation. Thanks to that clarification, we know not to bash it for its cliché storyline and sudden jumps between genres, but instead gives us an opportunity to look at it from a fresh perspective.
The film follows Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi), an abandoned human child who grows up with an adopted family of wolves and a black panther, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley; Gandhi, Shutter Island). When a hateful tiger, with a past connected to the human child, comes to know of his existence, Shere Khan (Idris Elba; Luther, Beasts of No Nation) would stop at nothing to get its (or his?) revenge. The story is pretty Disney-standard: Boy gets threatened, Boy must learn to survive in the new world, Boy finds strength within and in his friends to fight back. One key feature from the original was the musical element. Undoubtedly, the song “Bare Necessities” would probably be the most memorable from the classic film, so it would be a downer to not include it in the new remake. Without a doubt, this song would be an earworm for days/weeks after watching the new film. While there are no complaints to a little sing-song segment in the otherwise serious live remake, the inclusion of “I Wan’na Be Like You” seem to suggest that Favreau was caught in a musical mood but refuses to fully commit this film to the musical genre that really defines the original. Because of that, this film seem to want to be recognised as a musical, but is too afraid to fully commit to it. While this film draws majority of its content from the Disney classic, Favreau does choose to fill in the holes left behind in the original to make it more complete as a story.
Remake being a remake, often offers nothing new to the table. But Favreau did choose to remake this at the right age. The digital age. 2016’s The Jungle Book’s Computer Generated Graphics (CGI) are spectacularly weaved together with Nell’s solo live-action acting to transport the viewers from the theatres to the jungles. Anyone not convinced, of the industry’s improvement from paper animation to today’s technological breakthrough, would be now. The amount of details put into crafting each fur and water droplet in the film is stunningly jaw-dropping. If you weren’t told that they’re CGI, you would probably have thought those animals were real. The last time viewers saw this level of realness from CGI was probably from The Life of Pi, except The Jungle Book ups the ante to bring us a whole jungle of creatures, instead of just a lone tiger stuck on a boat.
The star-studded cast, albeit with Neel being the only live-action character in the film, supports the magnificent CGI beautifully with the perfect match between voice and character. The manly English voices of Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba posed as both a voice of wisdom and fear respectively to Mowgli, while the more light-hearted character, Baloo the bear, is voiced by the actor no stranger to comedy and drama, Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day). Alongside these characters is the ever-sultry Scarlett Johansson (Her, Marvel’s The Avengers), voicing as Kaa the snake, where she puts her aural seduction once again to cinematic glory (last heard in 2013’s Her); Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), as Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mother, Raksha; and the legendary Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction, The Deer Hunter), who gave his character, King Louie the orangutan, the persona of a Godfather-like crime boss from the 1920s. Undoubtedly, if these actors never voiced their characters, The Jungle Book would not be as exciting as it is.
Perhaps owing the most to nostalgia, this film would survive as a Disney success story. However, beyond that, this film would not serve any more than a remake. A visual stunner coupled with a modern orchestra’s take on the classic tunes, The Jungle Book is pleasing to the eye, and satisfying to the ears, preserving the spirit of the 1967 classic.