The 400 Word Review: The Jungle Book
By Sean Collier
April 18, 2016
Christopher Walken voices a gigantic orangutan, at one point breaking into a spirited rendition of the Disney classic “I Wan’na Be Like You.”
I’m not sure what else I can add. That fact alone should sell a Jungle Book ticket to anyone with a pulse.
Walken joins one of the most sublime voice casts I can recall in Disney’s live-action remake of its own classic cartoon, based on the works of Rudyard Kipling. While this new Jungle Book is not a work of animation — though nearly every frame is computer-generated — Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is the only human with any meaningful screen time. The rest of the performers lend voices to computer-generated, occasionally convincing fauna.
Walken’s turn as King Louie — here rendered as the extinct, Kong-like species gigantopithecus — is pretty fantastic. So are Scarlett Johansson’s seductive portrayal of the snake Kaa and Ben Kingsley’s stalwart voicing of the panther Bagheera. Bill Murray’s reinvention of the friendly bear Baloo is absolutely must-see.
And the tiger Shere Khan, as rendered in horrifying menace by Idris Elba, will inhabit your nightmares. Here is a villain for the ages.
For those few unfamiliar with the plot: Mowgli was found in the jungle as a baby and raised by a pack of wolves. As he approaches adolescence, Shere Khan — injured during a prior confrontation with a human — demands the boy be killed for the good of the jungle, and threatens to murder anyone who stands in his way. Mowgli must decide between an escape to the world of man or a risky confrontation with the head of the local food chain — and the animals must decide if they can trust any human, even one of their own.
It’s certainly scary and often unsettling; there are scenes that reminded me more of a mafia flick than Disney fare. Most children will be able to handle it, I think, assuming they’re not easily rattled; it’s a dark tale, but fundamentally affirming.
Disney seems to have found a rhythm with live-action recreations of their own properties. Last year’s Cinderella was a faithful and lovely fable, and The Jungle Book updates a classic tale with visual flair and action-movie stylization. (Another cartoon update is set for later this year, as Pete’s Dragon gets the same treatment.) It’s a bit long and misses some notes, but Disney fanatics (and their offspring) will be pleased.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark