Over the years, there have been several “Jungle Book” movies, all adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 novel of the same name. The film adaptations started in 1942, with a live-action version, and that format was repeated in 1994. However, most people remember the classic 1967 animated version of the film, which so many grew up watching, even decades after its release.
But the latest version of the classic tale, directed by Jon Favreau, is a CGI and live-action extravaganza that rivals the Disney classic.
“The Jungle Book” is the story of Mowgli, a young man-cub who was raised by wolves in the jungle, without ever knowing the outside world of mankind. Played by newcomer Neel Sethi, Mowgli is also the only non-CGI character in the film. Acting alongside the voices of some of Hollywood’s elite, Sethi more than holds his own. There is no scene or moment in the film too big for the young actor and he turns in a tremendous performance.
However, the real star of this film is the CGI: the scenery and animals are visually mesmerizing and draw viewers into the world of the jungle. There is no point in the film where the scenery feels fake, and the animals make audiences feel as if they are on the most up close and personal safari of all time.
The performances by the actors voicing the animals cannot be overlooked. Idris Elba, who lends his voice to the bitter tiger Shere Khan, is perfect. His voice fits the character so perfectly that it almost makes one believe all tigers speak with an English accent. But Elba is not the only one whose voice perfectly fits their character.
Bill Murray is hilarious as Baloo, Mowgli’s somewhat lazy bear friend. The film does not focus heavily on laughs, but the laughs it does provide mostly come from Murray. Ben Kingsley voices Bagheera, Mowgli’s panther protector, and his regal voice suits the character wonderfully. The same has to be said for Scarlett Johansson, who voices the hypnotizing snake Kaa, and Christoper Walken, who is so enjoyable as orangutan King Louie, one almost wishes his character was not one of the bad guys.
Unfortunately, the talented Lupita Nyong’o stumbles in her performance: her voice feels a bit too emotionless for Raksha, Mowgli’s adoptive wolf mother. However, all the other actors nailed their roles, especially the late great Garry Shandling. In his final film role he steals every scene as Ikki the porcupine.
One of the real pleasures of the film, besides the CGI, is its songs. In the 1967 animated version, the songs are the star of the show and many fans can probably still belt out a few lines of “The Bare Necessities.” In this latest version of “The Jungle Book,” Murray sings that classic song and Walken performs another childhood classic, “I Wanna Be Like You.” Their renditions are indicative of the movie as a whole: enjoyable and appreciated by audiences looking for a fresh take on a classic that leaves the nostalgia intact.