Written by Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
You grew up with the 1966 classic tale of Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo as a rag tag bunch of wild animals, now 50 years later we are given an updated version of the tale in the CGI/live action hybrid from Jon Faverau, director of Iron Man and Chef, with all the crossovers we are getting, how is there not an Iron Chef Man? Anyway, this version follows pretty much all the same beats as the original film, I can not comment on the book having not read it but from others who have they say it stick a bit more closely to that material than the animated one.
The main praise for this movie is its amazing photo realism in its CGI elements. It brought back memories of Avatar as the vehicle that used almost entirely CGI to create a fantastical world, and for the most part the world is quite beautiful. The problem lies in the uncanny valley that CGI hits when it comes to creating real looking animals. Zootopia came out barely a month ago and that level of animal animation was state of the art and worked amazingly well. This movie I feel will age poorly and fast. Baloo but especially Bagheera and the wolves suffer from pretty awful dead eyes. It is clear however that we have apes more or less down. With the Planet of the Apes movies being a prime example, and now King Louie played by Christopher Walken also being the best looking character by far in the movie. That made it tough to watch at times because it was distractingly not right. characters like Supreme Leader Snoke or even The White Orc in the Hobbit are done pretty poorly but are in it for so little that it doesn't matter too much but when you have a movie that requires its main characters be CGI, if the tech isn't there it's very hard to suspend disbelief.
The other issue I had was with Mogli, he was pretty solid through most of the movie but certainly not a stand out amazing actor that a movie like that would require, there have been some incredible kid actors like the kid in Looper for instance that you totally bought. Neel Sethi did his best and I'll admit it must have been really difficult to act against nothing at all but I still didn't quite believe his performance.
So what did I enjoy? Bill Murray was a great Baloo, he was funny and witty and really fit the character of a lazy do whatever I want bear. Kaa was also a highlight, The hypnotism scene was really well done, that sucked me into the story quite well. Idris Elba as Shere Khan was also scary and intimidating, but was unfortunately not super well done CGI wise again so that posed a problem again, which is too bad because he was very menacing in the role.
They kept in two songs in some form from the 5 or so the original had and only half really worked for me, Bare Necessities was nicely done because Baloo said he came up with a song he lived by and he seems like the type to be in a jazz band if animals did that kind of thing but I Want To Be Like You didn't work for me, I didn't believe that version of King Louie would want to break out in song.
Some of the omissions included the vultures, the elephant marching song and conversations and in its place we got a much more proud and majestic silent type of elephants that showed that they were well respected and you felt that respect for them and it was certainly a change for the better, lending to understanding of the jungle's social order. You don't really miss the vultures but what is missed is the deeper love hate relationship between Bagheera and Baloo, that was the best part for me, along with Kaa and even the crazy King Louie. I think that's my biggest complaint is how much of the humor is gone in this version. It's a much more serious adaptation. I enjoyed the wacky and wild nature of the jungle and could have used a bit more levity in it. The action is solid, as we have come to expect from Faverau, and the performances are mostly great but it just lacked the charm of the animated movie I feel.
This is not a bad movie at all, it just didn't wow me like it's wowed so many others. It's a solid movie with some fun moments, scary scenes, man vs animal struggles but just isn't the best version of that that we have seen. Look to other Disney films like Tarzan for the struggle of being a man among animals, or go for the fun upbeat original jungle book for a better relationship between Mowgli Bagheera and Baloo and for a live action CGI wonder with a boy and a tiger, go for Life of Pi. It's pretty and it's clear there is a lot of effort put into it to make something different than the original and bring it to a modern audience, I just couldn't totally get on board with it.