Just when I thought we were past the point of visual effects being able to impress us…
“The Jungle Book” is a retelling of the age old tale of man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who must journey from the jungle he was raised to a human village in order to escape a tiger who wants him dead. Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idras Elba and a half dozen others head an all-star voice cast as Jon Favreau directs.
This movie looks amazing. The detail on every animal, from flowing fur to twitching ears, is just incredible. For most of the film I genuinely felt like I was watching a Discovery Channel documentary, and the fact this whole film (set in the Indian jungle) was filmed on a Los Angeles sound stage blows my mind. But can special effects really do enough to carry a film? I mean, apparently.
I’ll start off with the voice talent, because it really was perfect casting all across the board. Bill Murray’s Baloo provides some moments of comic relief and Scarlett Johansson has a fun and visually stunning scene as the hypnotizing snake, Kaa. The real star of the show, however, is Idras Elba’s tiger, Shere Khan. He is menacing and angry, and just his physical presence in a scene is enough for you to feel intimidated.
Neel Sethi (in his feature debut) does a solid enough job as Mowgli, but I guess I could just sum it up with “I mean, he’s a child actor.” What is to be commended is he did all of his acting alongside puppets, so the fact he is interacting with animals that aren’t really there is impressive.
If you’ve seen the original 1967 “Jungle Book” (or any other telling), you know there really isn’t a plot to this story. It is simply a tale of a boy needing to get from Point A to Point B, with random events and characters popping up along the way. At first it flows fine but by the third act the repetitive scene-scene-scene nature of the narrative begins to feel awkward.
There is also one song and dance that is jarring and feels out of place, and it was somewhat distracting. There are only two songs in the entire film (one being Bare Necessities, but that is just Baloo riffing), so when this grand Broadway-worthy musical number explodes onto the scene, you’re taken aback, especially considering the tone of the film moments before and after it are both relatively dark.
And that is one final thing I should note: while this is a PG kid’s film, it can be quite grim at time. Animals fight and while it isn’t blood and gore, they get scratched, tossed off cliffs and crushed by debris. Some children may be frightened and some parents shocked by all this, however it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in “Jurassic World.”
“The Jungle Book” looks incredible and features an amazing voice cast. The film may not stick with you for long after you leave the theater, and the plot wears a little thin by the third act, but by that point you will probably be too invested in this visually stunning world to care. Like I started this review with, I’m one of those people who thought visual effects couldn’t wow us anymore, that we had seen it all; “The Jungle Book” left me eating my words, and has set a new bar for CGI filmmaking.
Critics Rating: 7/10