“The jungle is no longer safe for you,” says Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). “But this is my home,” replies Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as he’s being told by his oldest friend that it’s time for him to leave the jungle and go live with his own kind – man – in Disney’s live-action remake of their animated 1967 classic film, The Jungle Book, based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel.
Orphaned when he was barely old enough to walk, the man-cub Mowgli was saved by the black panther named Bagheera who took the young child to live with and be raised by the wolves. Now old enough but still not fast enough to run with the wolves (they beat him every time during “play” hunting), Mowgli only knows life in the jungle. He’s still watched over by Bagheera and is happy as can be being raised by Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), his wolf mother. His fun life in the jungle however is at an end because the man-hating tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) has returned and threatens the wolf pack. If they don’t give the man-cub over to him he will end the jungle truce and kill them all. Mowgli doesn’t want any living creature to be hurt because of him so he volunteers to leave the pack. Bagheera tells the wolves and Mowgli that he’ll take him to the man village where he will be safe and protected by his own kind.
So Bagheera and Mowgli set off through the jungle on their greatest adventure not knowing that Shere Khan is already hunting the boy or that a large python snake named Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) has her own plans for the man-cub, as does the gigantic orangutan named King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken). And, most importantly, they’re unaware that Mowgli is about to meet his best friend, Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray), who will become a vital ally for Mowgli in his eventual fight with Shere Khan.
Darker in tone than the 1967 animated original film and breathtaking to look at, 2016’s The Jungle Book live-action remake has ground-breaking CGI effects and a wonderful voice cast but a very thin storyline. Ben Kingsley is perfectly cast as the voice of Bagheera the black panther, Mowgli’s protector and teacher as well as surrogate father. He brings just the right demeanor and pathos to the character.
Bill Murray is funnier but not quite as lovable as Phil Harris was as the voice of everyone’s favorite jungle bear, Baloo. Harris brought to life the most memorable and beloved character in the original film giving the bear his own personality and stealing the animated film away from all the other characters. Murray also brings his own likeability and quick wit to the role of the bear but doesn’t steal the film in the same way.
Scarlett Johansson is a great choice to voice the sneaky, creepy, slithering snake Kaa and a big improvement over Sterling Holloway who voiced it in the original, (Seriously? The voice of “Winnie the Pooh” is supposed to be menacing? Didn’t happen). Johansson gives the snake an eerie, falsely sweet-sounding personality that is sure to chill your blood. Christopher Walken is wonderfully over-the-top as the voice of King Louie, the orangutan who wants Mowgli to create for him man’s ultimate weapon: the red flower aka fire.
Newcomer Neel Sethi is a solid choice to portray Mowgli, the young man-cub who’s growing up and has to find a way to survive and beat his first deadly enemy in the jungle. Considering the young actor was playing opposite a green screen most of the time, his performance is quite impressive.
The real stars of the film, however, are the stunning special effects that bring to life the plant life of the jungle and all the animals. It’s truly a groundbreaking achievement in special effects and looks amazing. Everything up on the screen except for Neel Sethi as Mowgli is CGI. CGI has never looked so believable or realistic as it does in The Jungle Book down to the very smallest detail such as the fur of the bear and the tiger, the drops of water on leaves, the rushing river water, the massive elephants with their tusks, and the fur and eyes of the little wolf pups. The Jungle Book has now set the bar incredibly high for CGI-driven films.
With spectacular special effects, a legendary voice cast bringing the characters to life, and some exciting action scenes, the live-action The Jungle Book should most certainly be seen up on the big screen.
MPAA Rating: PG for some sequences of scary action and peril
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Directed By: Jon Favreau