“The Jungle Book” (2016)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Ah, Disney. Never one not to reinvent the wheel as often as possible. And in the case of “The Jungle Book”, while there’s a lot to yummy stuff at the banquet table, you’ll definitely feel hungry when all is said and done.
Favreau’s direction is excellent. He keeps a well-worn story moving, even to the extent that it feels new in spots. The action sequences, shocking moments and “boo” surprises are action-y, shocking and surprising. The scenery is stunning and absolutely believable in its live-action environment. And the animals, with some glaring exceptions, look, move and feel quite real.
Kingsley, Murray, Elba and Walken perform their respective VO roles with conviction and emotional clarity. Walken is especially notable. His voice has become a meme in our culture, and it’s great to be reminded just how formidable an actor he is – without the restriction of the body’s aging process to interfere with our experience of it.
And rounding out the good is John Debney’s wonderful score. His themes are specific, lovely and cinematic….sweeping, even. They never interfere with the action or instruct emotion and I found myself listening to it quite a bit throughout.
On the other side of the ledger?
Johansson is woefully miscast, as evidenced by Favreau cutting her song from the body of the film and sliding it into the closing credits. Her vocal performance is not alluring or hypnotic enough for us to buy in. And, alas, I love her, but Lupita Nyong’o is just not a voice over performer. Granted, as with all Disney films, the matriarch is SO two-dimensional, but that just confirms the importance of a REALLY accomplished VO artist in that role. Worst of all, Neel Sethi, as our Moghli, is just…so…blah. He looks uncomfortable in almost every scene, and the characters’ craftiness and contrariness, essential to the plot as it is, comes across as a somewhat less whiny Moghli as compared to the rest of the performance. Favreau handicaps him further by showing us his incredible dexterity in the opening scenes…gliding across the rough ground and trees of the forest…and then, in other scenes, looking like an old man with debilitating bunions as he tries to climb over rocks and tree trunks. Not his fault, but it sure doesn’t help the character.
In the end, I think the biggest problem with the film is…why bother? This “Jungle Book” doesn’t really bring anything new to the canon…other than to show us just how far talking-animal/mo-cap technology has come since the days of “Mister Ed”.
I’m sure kids will love it…maybe…but the fifty-year-old animated version still fills me with wonder in a way this newer version just doesn’t.
Written May 16, 2016