Release: 22nd August 2016
Format: Disney 3D Blu-Ray / Blu-Ray / DVD and Digital
The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.
Disney’s live action arm is gently spiralling into a flurry of flesh and blood remakes; an ever growing catalogue of human takes on their most popular cartoons. But with a so far mediocre bundle of Cinderella, Maleficent, the polarising Alice in Wonderland franchise and – cast your minds back – a dire 101 Dalmatians, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book is just another so-so attempt at parting cash from hand. Well, I am afraid, you’d be right. Because despite its visual effervescence and joyful spirit; The Jungle Book 2016 is a pretty lame duck.
The film’s biggest stumbling block is casting. It is all kinds of wrong. Ben Kingsley’s majestic pomp flops out of Bagheera, Bill Murray’s Baloo sounds like a charmless stoner, Christopher Walken is wildly mismatched to the gigantic lump that is King Louie, Scarlett Johansson’s voice is just plain wrong coming from hypnotic snake Kaa, and Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is sheer wide of the mark (a cockney tiger!? I ask you!). The only voices which do seem to be on target are those of Giancario Esposito (Akela) and Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha). It seems odd that for a brand so synonymous with marksmen skill voice casting, Disney have managed to drop the ball so egregiously with The Jungle Book. But the ball has indeed be dropped, terribly so, and the result is a product that looks and sounds like two completely different movies. This isn’t to say that anyone is necessarily bad in the film, but just that their voices coming from those animals make for a thorny experience.
Favreau comes at the film with a lot of interest in world building. The jungle which Mowgli and his anthropomorphic friends inhabit is a luscious tapestry of greens and blues that pulses with life and mystery; but not a single pixel of it is real. It really pops in 3D (quite literally) and uses the tech to great effect. The animals themselves skip gleefully around the uncanny valley, while offering some very emotive performances – with Khan being a particularly breath taking render. But poor little newcomer Neel Sethi, the only live actor in the film, appear way out of his depth in all that empty space. During the film’s more emotional scenes, he clearly struggles to make a connection to the digital world around him, and all that conversing with thin air sometimes plays out a little…thin. Still, his Mowgli has all the energy you’d expect; guaranteed to melt hearts and inspire a generation of tree climbing tots.
It would be very difficult to get Kipling’s source material wrong, and very few risks are taken in bringing the novel and Disney’s original adaptation to this modern output. There are a smattering of the songs we all know – for nostalgic purposes – and little flourishes are given to justify this new version (King Louie possibly being the most understandably entertaining). It is clear that assumptions were made as to the story carrying itself, but just because you can make something digital look beautiful, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will bear the same weight and performance as a real person. And this is the second nail in The Jungle Book’s coffin, as for the most part, it leaves you as a viewer feeling cold and detached. For a film that presents itself as a heart warming fable, don’t be surprised if the hardest working muscle in your body fails to rise above a mild chill. The Jungle Book is in dire need of some real people and some real animals.
“Impossible to achieve!” I hear you say. Well that is kind of the point. If you need to make something animated to get it working in a real life environment, then why not just have an all animated version in the first place? Oh wait, they already have one. Which, when you consider it, kind of defeats the point of the whole remake process.
Film Grade: C-
Not available at time of going to press.
Missing the bear necessities of genuine emotional connection, Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book might look beautiful but it doesn’t feel beautiful. It has an abundance of cuteness, and occasionally makes you laugh, but it also has an extremely jarring array of voice performances.