“The Legend Will Never Be the Same”
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johanssen, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o and Neel Sethi
A young boy (Sethi) is found by animals, named Mowgli and raised by the mother wolf Raksha (Nyong’o) in the jungles of India. When the water truce brings him into contact with Shere Khan (Elba), the tiger swears to kill him, and Mowgli agrees to leave the pack in the company of his mentor Bagheera (Kingsley) in order to protect them.
Unfortunately, Shere Khan is a sore loser. He kills the pack’s leader, Akela (Esposito) to draw Mowgli out and takes over the hunting ground. Mowgli meanwhile has run-ins with the python Kaa (Johanssen) and the monkeys of the Bandar-Log and their chief, the gigantopithecus King Louis (Walken), as well as finding a friend in the sloth bear grifter Baloo (Murray).
At last, Mowgli returns to unite his friends and confront the tiger who killed his father.
What’s wrong with it?
I really was hoping that Kaa would get to be a badass in this version.
Christopher Walken as King Louis is… pretty much just Christopher Walken.
Apparently, Mowgli has been wearing the same pants for ten years.
Neel Sethi is an unknown of the right age, and his Hindu heritage is clearly legit, but his performance is… variable. Mostly he’s pretty good, but every so often he just misses the mark.
Mowgli is a natural tool user; this isn’t a bad thing, but the extent is striking. Apparently he’s an intuitive flint knapper and born to build pulley systems, abseil and work simple trigonometric problems.
What’s right with it?
The voice cast is amazing. I imagine Idris Elba’s Shere Khan will be one of those villains with quite the following.
The film’s links to the first Disney version are subtle and loving, from uses of the original music to lines lifted directly. Conversely, there are a number of places where the film goes back to the source, such as when the monkeys watch Mowgli weaving, Shere Khan’s history with Mowgli and attempt to subvert the young wolves, and the use of the Law of the Jungle.
While the gender-flipped Kaa is still a minor villain/magical plot expositor, Raksha is a solid female lead.
The almost entirely CGI jungle and creatures are beautifully realised, despite a few slightly off movements.
How bad is it really?
It’s not bad; it’s not even as terrifying as a brutal horror show like Zootropolis. Like most of Disney’s recent live action remakes it’s unlikely to ever gain the classic status of the original, but for once they’ve included some actual songs, albeit with a rather offbeat presentation.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The credits play over a dance number (specifically ‘I Wanna Be Like You’) in an arena formed inside the book from the original opening, in a bravura piece of animation.
What’s up with…?
- The man village? Between the dissolute sentries and the huge bonfire, it’s like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.
- Scarlett Johanssen’s rendition of ‘Trust in Me’ in the end credits? It sounds like the theme tune for a mid-80s Bond knock-off or something.
- King Louis the gigantopithecus? I mean, props for respecting that an Orangutan would be out of place, but I’m not convinced that a lone relict of a species extinct for a hundred millennia is in any way more realistic.
Production values – It’s a gorgeous piece of work, but the CGI is just a little bit off in a couple of places. Still, that’s not bad going for a film that is basically Neel Sethi and CGI. 3
Dialogue and performances – The voice acting is wonderful, and combined beautifully with the digital animals and recorded animal sounds. Neel Sethi is pretty good for an untried twelve year old, but is a weak link. 5
Plot and execution – This is an area in which, for my money, the film scores over its animated original. The timeline of the film (and the runtime) are expanded, and Mowgli has a much stronger arc, beginning with taking responsibility for leaving the pack and revolving around his use of tools. 4
Randomness – The film is actually pretty low on randomness, accepting the central ‘talking animals’ thesis. The only real offender is the absolutely infernal image of humanity at large. 3
Waste of potential – I still think that there’s a great film to be made sticking yet more closely to Kipling’s plot, and this doesn’t add anything much new to the original. Still, it’s a good film. 8