REVIEW – The Jungle Book is a wild ride

Panthers and tigers and bears – oh my! Oh, right, and that mancub in his debut feature film role.

If you came here expecting me to write about some kind of live-action Disney sing-along, then, I hate to be the bearer of bad news – but that’s not what this version of The Jungle Book is about. The remake of the 1967 cartoon is unabashedly moody, and darker than its predecessor – but has LOTS to offer.

An all-star cast of vocal talents play to the acting chops of newcomer Neel Sethi: Bill Murray, Sir Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walkin, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito. Sethi plays Mowgli, a mancub who, for reasons we learn about later, is a hot commodity in the jungle – particularly where tiger Shere Khan (Elba) is concerned. It’s up to Bagheera (Kingsley) and Baloo (Murray) to help Mowgli stay safe.

In the months and multiple trailers leading up to the film, my fears about how dark the movie would be just kept on building and building. I think what’s important to remember is you need to go in with the thought that it is, indeed, a 2016 film. It doesn’t mean you should disregard the legacy of the cartoon – there are definitely snapshots of that in this film – but I’m warning you: don’t go in there looking for a replica of the animated film. It’s pretty unnecessary.

Looking at the big picture, the film is visually breathtaking. I recommend seeing it in 3D. The jungle is a real diamond with so many different facets: some parts shine brightly under the light – other bits are hidden away, but have lots to offer after closer inspection. Adding to that is the cinematography and editing: it’s fun, it’s fresh, and innovative. The opening scene has some of the cleanest sequencing I’ve ever seen, which appears tough to pull off given all of Mowgli’s complicated movements from one tree to another.

I was fairly on board with all of the casting, but my major concerns were with Sethi and Johansson. Sethi was far better than I thought he’d be. He had maybe one awkward moment during the scene with the monkeys, but aside from that, he was adorable, charming, and mischievous. As for Scarlett Johansson playing Kaa? Not as weird as I thought it would be, but I’m still not 100% sold. The shining stars vocally: Idris Elba’s Shere Khan – who is incredibly scary, Sir Ben Kingsley’s fatherly Bagheera, and Bill Murray’s Baloo serves as solid comic relief – for the most part.

The story is all there. From start to finish, you’re engaged. There were a few lines that hit me emotionally (no, I didn’t cry!) and there was a great range of emotion – from humour to sadness to anger. But there were things that did not work: while the song “The Bare Necessities” made a fitting appearance, “I Wan’na Be Like You” was bizarre. The instrumental reprise of “The Bare Necessities” didn’t work in some situations. Listening to ScarJo sing “Trust in Me” at the end of the film was…interesting. I wasn’t a fan, but I wasn’t hating it. It was very much like a lullaby.

No matter what I say, people will go see it. More likely than not, it will top the box office. Let’s face it, there’s nothing exceptional out right now. I will warn you that I was at the first Thursday night showing with a mixed audience, and children were terrified during particular scenes (it’s rated PG). This is nothing new for Disney, however: if you’ve exposed your kids to other movies like The Lion King or Bambi, you’re going to encounter those not-so-happy death themes – but this is on another level, so…you’ve been warned.

Cut to the chase: it’s a visual gift, it’s a fun experience, the story is mostly there, and it’s got a lot of talent to back it up. Where it falls short is in the way it attempts to pay homage to Disney’s Golden Age cartoon through unnecessary inclusions of music from the cartoon. Also – it could be a little too moody for some expecting a colourful story all the way through.

This movie has four bare necessities out of five from me. It’s on a wide release for Friday.

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