Review: The Jungle Book (2016) (★★★★½)

4.5 stars

Upon seeing the trailers for The Jungle Book I was very sceptical, especially after seeing the reviews for Disney’s most recent voyage into live action remakes with Cinderella last year. Despite these concerns, Disney, with the help of a perfect cast, have pulled off a remarkable feat and brought new wonder and whimsy back to one of their timeless classics.

One of the things that strikes you the most when watching this movie is that nothing is really there. We have reached what can be thought as the height of CGI where we have attained photorealism. Its first widespread use can be seen in movies such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, however, in The Jungle Book, everything except Mowgli is computer generated. Regardless of this fact, the movie is filled with charm and never misses a beat.

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This is primarily down to the casting. The casting is perfect. Neel Sethi makes his debut as Mowgli and his performance was incredible for someone his age. It wasn’t the sort of performance that you see from a normal child actor, the kind of performance where they know that they are in a major movie and try to be mature for their age; Sethi was fun, free and a pleasure to watch.

Idris Elba as Shere Khan was also an absolute spot-on casting choice. Most people’s understanding of The Jungle Book comes from the classic 1967 animated movie. It certainly was for me, so it comes as much surprise and distress as you see Shere Khan straight up kill animals. This was such a good direction for the movie to head in. Sure it has lost some of the charm that the original movie had, but what it adds in terms of tone and tension far out way what little charm is lost. The same can be said for Kaa, played by Scarlett Johansson, whose natural seductive vocal tone seemed odd from the trailers but plays off wonders in the movie as she hypnotises Mowgli.

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That’s not to say that the movie loses too much charm. It has it by the bucket loads. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bill Murray as a Bear and Christopher Walken singing, ‘I Wanna Be Like You.’

The only issue I had with the movie came down to the use of songs. The inclusion of The Bear Necessities felt incredibly organic and fit with the tone of the scene yet the inclusion of ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ felt incredibly out of place. This is especially true when you hear the song in the end credits accompanied with a brilliant rendition of ‘Trust In Me’ by Scarlett Johannson that felt like it was just out of a Bond movie. It makes you feel like they recorded them for the end credits but thought that ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ was that good that they should add it to the movie. It’s not great. It’s weird and hilarious and I love it for that fact.

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The pacing also felt incredibly fluid and hit every beat at just the right time. Scenes were not defined just by their location but more so by their content. Some scenes, especially the chase scenes changed environments frequently making the jungle not only feel real, but incredibly expansive and wild.

All being said, this is a wonderful rendition of a classic tale that is not only beautifully and brilliantly executed but also updated with more thrills and tension that make you really care about those animals that you forget are just pixels. It’s a promising start to what can only be seen as Disney’s newest push of remaking live action versions of their classic animations. The Jungle Book will suck you in for an adventure that you know and love, yet you’ll never know what’s round the corner.

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