It’s the year of the remake for Disney, and The Jungle Book (2016) was one of its big-name releases, alongside Pete’s Dragon and The BFG, but the question is whether or not it adds anything over and above the genius 1967 cartoon movie. With a mix of live action and CGI animation, the visuals were always going to be a big factor in the success of the film and for the most part they’re fairly impressive, but with a story that’s only subtly changed from the previous movie, it will have the biggest impact on newcomers to the Rudyard Kipling classic.
For older generations who grew up with The Jungle Book cartoon movie, you might enjoy the new take, but it’s not exactly a brand new beast, so you may feel like you’re treading old ground for flashy new visuals and a big name cast, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. It works pretty well from a nostalgic point of view, with adapted snippets of the songs that made the original so iconic, so there’s a little something for everyone.
It’s not without its minor amends to the fringe elements of the plot either, it’s just that there’s a distinct similarity to the thread that strings it all together. What is a little different works pretty well in the end, including the reverence for the elephants, Mowgli’s ingenuity, the extra nasty streak of Shere Khan and Baloo’s lackadaisical chancer lifestyle.
In all fairness, the selection of the cast and their performances are pretty much faultless. We weren’t too convinced by the prospect of Idris Elba (Thor: Ragnarok) as the killer tiger initially, and in fact his opening appearance took a little adjusting to with such a thick London accent, but it doesn’t take him long to make the role his own. Bill Murry (Ghostbusters (2016)) is perfect as Baloo and while Ben Kingsley (Watership Down) and Lupia Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) don’t stand out all that much, they do a lot to ground the film with solid performances.
Christopher Walken (Eddie The Eagle) is epic as King Louie, filling the oversized shoes of the character with his usual effortless impact, and Scalett Johansson (Captain America: Civil War) is brilliant as Kaa, despite not getting all that much screen time. The young Neel Sethi makes for a pretty decent Mowgli, but the strength of his American accent does a little to undermine the performance.
The special effects and style of The Jungle Book have clearly been developed for the big screen where they look much more incredible compared to the smaller delivery of home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray or digital download. They still look good for the most part, but you can see more of the negatives than you would if you were watching it in 3D at the cinema.
There are times when the CGI characters are literally sublime, but there are others where the strings tell a little too keenly and all you can really see is the CGI animation that constructed them. There’s a certain amount of inconsistency too, which stands out when you suddenly see it in the midst of the rest of the film. Baloo, for example, looks much less real-life than the rest of the characters, and then there’s the Gigantopithecus interpretation of King Louie, which looks very cool, but it’s sort of at odds with the timeline of the rest of the film.
Overall, there is enough reason to catch the film, as the visual style and cast add a slightly different slant on the classic. However, it’s a marginal gain to be honest and while we enjoyed the film, it doesn’t wow quite as much as it perhaps should have done. With visuals that haven’t transferred as well to the small screen and such a close similarity between the development of the cartoon iteration and elements of the live action remake it’s more of a one-time watch than a collection addition.
On a positive front, it does make for a nice intro to the story for kids that haven’t been introduced to it previously, although the focus on vilifying a tiger isn’t all that relevant with the modern day plight of the animals in the wild. Maybe it’s time we saw an adaptation of The Jungle Book where Shere Khan and Mowgli go on to put their differences aside and work together to make things a better place for everyone.
The Jungle Book (2016) DVD review: 3/5