The Jungle Book (2016) – Movie Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Mowgli is a young child, or “man-cub,” orphaned in the jungle as a toddler with the death of his father. He is soon found by the compassionate black panther, Bagheera, who takes him to be raised by the wolf pack under the eye of their leader, Akela. There he grows up alongside the wolf pups with the loving guidance of his surrogate mother Raksha and learns the laws of the jungle, what it means to be a wolf, and how to suppress his human cleverness and his inventions and tools, his “tricks,” as the animals call them.

Drought comes to the jungle, bringing with it the “water truce” wherein no animal must eat another. At the watering hole, Mowgli first meets the intimidating tiger, Shere Khan, who hates humans and threatens to kill the boy the moment the truce ends. When the rains come, Mowgli finds he must flee to the man-village to avoid death by his menacing claws.

What follows is an adventure through the jungle as Mowgli makes friends, faces dangers, and learns who he really is.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“The Jungle Book” is full of adventure, wonder and thrills, but it also does an excellent job of building characters and drama. There are valuable themes of identity, responsibility, family, and bravery throughout the film that kids and adults alike can benefit from. This is a film that almost anybody can enjoy unless they have something against talking animals or adventure stories. Beyond that, people who love to see the advancements of CGI technology and artistry would no doubt find the movie fascinating.

However, the movie would probably be scary for very small children. Forget how cheery and lighthearted the animated film from 1967 was. This movie, while still having moments of light-hearted fun, does not pull back from showing just how dangerous and scary the jungle can be. There is at least one jump scare, and the “villain,” Shere Khan, is a real monster. He is not afraid to kill or threaten violence, and proves to be a terrifying threat to all of the characters throughout the film.

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The movie is still made primarily for kids, certainly, but I would put the viewing age-range a couple of years later on than the animated film it shares DNA with. That said, I believe that kids should watch movies that can scare them, and all of the scares in this film are of a good, thrilling sort. It is simply something to keep in mind for those of you with younguns.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“The Jungle Book” is a beautiful movie. The CGI work is top notch, and after about five minutes into the movie I never questioned the reality of the creatures talking on the screen, and the jungle itself is vibrant and lush.

The film has much more than simple appearance to speak for it, however, as the voice acting is fantastic with terrific performances in every role across the board. From Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, to Bill Murray as Baloo, to Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, they all inhabit their roles. The young child actor playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, is not perfect. However, I give him a lot of credit for acting when he is literally the only non-CGI character in the whole cast.

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The plot has many of the same beats as the 1967 animated Disney film of the same name, but tight writing links the events together in a strong narrative that makes every scene carry a weight and importance that simply wasn’t there in the original animation. This film also plays on the nostalgia of the audience for the animated film through the reappearance of a couple of its classic musical numbers, but only one of them really worked with the tone and purpose of the scene it appeared in.

The strong writing of the plot and dialogue comes together with the beautiful CGI and fleshed out characters to create a stellar product with only a few minor flaws. “The Jungle Book” is not only the best live-action remake of a Disney Animated movie so far, it is very possibly the definitive version of this classic tale. “The Jungle Book” is worth buying brand new.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

No really, the CGI was amazing, you guys. I honestly wouldn’t have believed it had I not sat through an entire movie of it. I personally doubted that it would work from the second I saw the first trailer through when I finally sat down in the theater. It completely blew away my expectations. We’ve had CGI creatures that look very life-like before, but outside of Ceasar from “Planet of the Apes” and its sequel we’ve never had any that both looked this real and yet could believably talk. I can say without a shred of doubt in my mind that these are the very best CGI animal creations made thus far.

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That said, what made these animal creations truly come alive was the excellent voice acting. Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray make a great parental unit as Bagheera and Baloo. Kingsley brings just the right sense of wisdom, protective seriousness, and exasperation to the role. Murray is spot-on perfect as the carefree and lighthearted Baloo. He is irresponsible and lightly manipulative, sure, but he has a big heart for Mowgli, and Murray manages to strike the right balance. This is Murray’s best performance in a couple of years at least.

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The other voice actors all did very well too. Lupita Nyong’o’s Raksha was suitably motherly, and Giancarlo Esposito’s Akela felt very much like the leader he was. Christopher Walken’s King Louie had a strong undercurrent of mad power hunger with every word he spoke. The vocals along with his size made him feel very threatening, even when he was simply trying to convince Mowgli to help him. Scarlett Johansson was good as Kha, but the role felt a touch under-utilized to me. Beyond all of them, Idris Elba’s Shere Khan was regal and menacing. He managed a perfect blend of brutish violence and sophisticated sociopathy that was mesmerizing to watch.

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In regards to Sethi’s Mowgli, it’s great to see a minority child actor in the part, and he did very well for a child actor. His acting never took me out of the film, and I give him incredible credit for acting to nothing the entire time. Still, he did have that dead-eye look that often comes from having to act to a green screen, and not all of the dialogue he was given felt completely natural coming from him. I think he has loads of potential as he grows up to become a great actor.

The film’s dialogue and plot were both well done. The dialogue was snappy and legitimately entertaining. The writing never talked down to a kid audience and felt authentic. The plot might be the most improved aspect of the film since the original animated film. I forgot just how disjointed the original’s plot was. Scenes were stitched together through happenstance more than anything else. In this movie, however, each scene is linked with the overarching plot and Mowgli’s character development.

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Still, there are some minor plot weaknesses. Some characters knew information that I find unlikely that they would know, such as the circumstances around Mowgli’s abandonment. These moments were close to breaking my immersion in the film; thankfully they remained minor annoyances.

The film’s improvements upon the original doesn’t prevent them from dipping into nostalgia, however. While they dropped many of the songs of the original, they did salvage two of them. I strongly feel that only one of those worked. The well-used one came about more or less naturally and contributed to the tone of the scene. The second song clashed heavily with the tone they set for that scene and took me right out of the movie for a minute. I’d say it was my biggest qualm overall. I will speak about which one did and didn’t work in the spoiler talk, though I think anyone who remembers the original animated film could probably guess which two they kept.

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I like how they treated the elephants as well, like these spiritual monoliths or gods that walk the jungle.

Conclusion and Star Rating:

Ultimately, “The Jungle Book” derives most of its power and appeal from the strength of the character portrayals and the genuine emotions generated throughout its runtime. You feel sorrow for the wolfpack and Mowgli. You feel scared and intimidated by Shere Khan. You feel the genuine friendliness and care in the relationships between Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo. It has a legitimate emotional impact that lasts past the close of the film, and it gives me hope that the inevitable future live-action remakes will be as good. “The Jungle Book” is without question a “Great” film.

4 & One Half Stars

Four and one-half Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

I’ve got a couple of things to talk about here. Before I get to the big one, which is the drastic ending change from the original animated film, let’s talk about the surviving musical numbers. “Bare Necessities” came about naturally in Baloo and Mowgli’s conversation and really helped set the tone of the scene and their friendship. While the lyrics didn’t follow the action on screen as accurately as it did in the animated film, it felt like something that Baloo would sing, and Murray did a good job injecting it with cheer and playfulness.

“I Wan’na Be Like You,” the only other song to survive fully and make it into the film, was a real break from the tone the film was setting. The throne-room for King Louie was dark and menacing, and his great size and their conversation made it clear that he was a threatening presence. So, once the jaunty tune of “I Wan’na Be Like You,” started up, it clashed heavily with the entire scene. Don’t get me wrong, I liked some of the visuals. I liked the falling fruit, for instance, and hearing Christopher Walken sing that song is a hoot, but it just didn’t work in context. Actually, I think that if this song had been put in the credits instead of, or alongside “Trust In Me,” which also survived but I didn’t count since it was a credits song, I think the film would have benefitted from it.

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Speaking of the credits, those were some fun credits! I loved the flipping storybook and how they played with things like scale and the animals literally coming to life out of the book. Anyways, on to the big one – the changed ending.

I actually liked the change a great deal. I know that the original, in which Mowgli is seduced to life in the man village by the sight of a girl, is supposed to represent him growing up. However, I feel that the original ending failed to accomplish what it set out to do. Mowgli didn’t step up to the responsibilities of becoming a man. He was tricked into it, and by a seductress no-less. That ending painted Mowgli’s relationships with the jungle as more or less hollow, and it paints the girl as some sort of evil siren, luring Mowgli away from his family and friends. That’s a pretty bleak outlook on love for a film that bases its appeal on charm and friendship.

The new ending does much more to show Mowlgi’s growth. He accepts himself as who he is – both a man and a member of the natural order, by accepting his cleverness and tools, and by rejecting the destructive forces of man as represented by the fire. He faces his own challenges through bravery and responsibility, and then he makes the personal choice to remain in the jungle, showing his relationships there to be real.

On top of it all, the new ending leaves open the possibility for a sequel in which Mowgli’s first meeting with the girl starts the story, rather than ends it, so we could see a real struggle of character over whether to choose love or the jungle. It’s just a better ending all around.

At least that is my opinion of it. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time!

          – Druidan

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