By: Muneeb Arshid
When we first found out that the beloved Disney animation, The Jungle Book was going to be remade as a live-action film, most people were quite excited. Perplexed, yes, as to how it was actually going to be remade, but excited nonetheless. Then, we found out that about 99% of the film was going to be all due to the work of CGI effects, which instantly turned many people off. What I can report after watching this film is that no one should have been worried about what we were going to get on-screen. I can’t say that The Jungle Book is a perfect live-action adaptation; there are issues with it. However, for Disney and their continued “live-actionification” of their classic animations, this is a step in the right direction especially after the success of Cinderella from last year. With another beloved story coming to life next year in Beauty and the Beast, I think everyone should be giddy with the work that Disney is putting in, not only in regards to their live-action films but also the continued success with the animated films of late.
The Jungle Book follows the story of a little boy (or man-cub) named Mowgli (wonderfully played by the first time actor Neel Sethi) and is the adaptation of parts of the first book written by Rudyard Kipling. The story follows Mowgli as he is being hunted by the ever-menacing Shere Khan (voiced by the majestic Idris Elba) and has to find his way in the world with the help of his two closest friends, Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and Baloo (Bill Murray). Obviously, the visuals of the film are stunningly beautiful, but the second-best thing about the film is its incredible voice acting with the likes of the above-mentioned Elba and Kingsley and Murray, who are joined by Lupita Nyong’o (Mowgli’s adoptive mother, Raksha), Scarlett Johansson as Kaa who elevates the creep factor of the film, even if it’s just for about 5 minutes of the runtime. Others include Giancarlo Esposito (of Breaking Bad fame), Christopher Walken, Russell Peters and the director Jon Favreau himself. The feeling that the voice acting exudes is that even though none of the animals are real, the voice acting gives the CGI animals the presence and the feeling that they are just normal characters on screen and you don’t actually notice that they are in fact talking, CGI animals interacting with a human boy.
About that human boy. For a first-time child actor, I would say that Neel Sethi does a wonderful job playing the parkouring, ever-excited man-cub Mowgli. As a young actor, there’s always growing pains in learning the craft. Sethi does remarkably well in the action set pieces of the film, running through the jungle and climbing up and down trees when needed. If there is a criticism on his acting, it would be his work during the more dramatic scenes of the film. The lack of experience is definitely apparent when he’s faced with those scenes. However, for someone who is making their acting debut at the age of about 12 or 13, this is a criticism that can certainly be overlooked as his overall work in the film was exceptional and just like Room actor Jacob Tremblay, both will be actors to follow in the future. The rest of the cast, in their voice-acting roles, bring their respective characters to life with specific nuances that we have become familiar over the past few years. If there’s ever a voice that symbolizes the meaning of a villain, it has to be that of Idris Elba. Coming off her motion capture performance as Maaz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lupita Nyong’o once again reprises a very motherly role, this time to Mowgli himself. The rest of the voice-acting is so spot on, and you become so immersed into the characters and the story itself, that there is no question whatsoever as to whether the decisions to commit to a fully CG film was the correct one.
However, the questions about this film were always going to be about the visuals of the film, knowing that we were getting a story that would be relatively similar to the 1967 animation and with that spectacular voice cast. A film almost entirely created by computer graphics really gave the mass public the heebie-jeebies before entering the theatre this past weekend. I’ll be honest, I was part of that community. I had a blast watching the trailers but once details were revealed prior to the release of the film that detailed the amount of CG used, my sense of caution was heightened. However, anyone who feared that this film might not work, including myself, need not have feared. The studio that has given us classically beautiful animations is also now setting themselves apart by giving us these vastly beautiful live-action adaptations that have been successful not only at the box office but with critics (such as yours truly) as well. There was only one issue that I noticed in the CG; early on in the film the movement of Bagheera the Panther from one rock down to another was spotty. His movement seemed slightly wooden and made the CG stand out. However, once past that point, the animals are beautifully rendered with pinpoint accuracy and combining them with the outstanding visual set pieces really sets this film apart in being a visual masterpiece.
That, of course, brings us to the question of whether the film ultimately was a matter of style over substance. I would say that the film sufficiently balances the two together. However, I can understand the arguments that may state otherwise. The story is quite basically a story of self-redemption and the struggle of a kid against a villainous tiger. Yes, kid vs. tiger seems preposterous but who am I to question the great stories of Rudyard Kipling and Disney studios. I can only say that I was entirely involved with the story and wanted to know where it was going, even though I knew where it was going. That’s one way of saying that I was not bored with the film and that is a great compliment for a remake of a 50+-year-old story.
For a film that was at one point, very highly anticipated and then lost some of that lustre due to the revelation of the copious amounts of CG used in its creation, I would say that Disney has really stepped up their game in ensuring that these live-action adaptations are not wasted. I doubt there were many people expecting a better film than Cinderella from last year, but Disney has pulled it off both critically and at the box-office. This is a good omen considering that we are getting a star-studded adaptation of one of the most beloved Disney stories ever, Beauty and the Beast.
The Jungle Book live-action adaptation receives a well-deserved grade of B+ (8.3/10).