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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Movie Review - The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book (2016)
*viewed in 3D*
Starring Neel Sethi and featuring the voice talent of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken
Directed by Jon Favreau

Exquisitely filmed with some of the best integration of computer-generated animation and live action acting I've ever seen, director Jon Favreau's reimagining of Disney's 1967 version of The Jungle Book is stunning to watch.  Unfortunately, it also left me feeling somewhat bored, pondering the notion why Disney feels the need to keep rehashing their prior successes instead of formulating new and original ideas.  Much like last year's Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Cinderella and, to a lesser extent, 2014's Maleficent, the production quality of these recent live action updates is undeniably stellar, but I have to wonder if I'll ever be emotionally moved by them seeing as how I've already seen the animated originals.

We all know the story here -- Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is a young boy who was somehow abandoned in the jungle and ends up being raised by a pack of wolves led by Akela and Raksha (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong'o).  Thanks to a bit more ominous storyline than in the original animated film, it's decided that Mowgli must be taken to the man village to be raised with other humans.  Panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) begins the journey with Mowgli, but they are soon separated at which point the young boy comes across a lazy bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and a friendship quickly ensues.  With Baloo willing to keep Mowgli company, Mowgli sees no reason to continue on to the man village, but little does he know that the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) seeks to end the young boy's life.

I'll give the film credit for going darker than the original and giving Mowgli's initial existence in the jungle a bit more of a backstory, but beyond that, the film mirrors very closely to the original in terms of overall plot.  Admittedly, when I reviewed the original, I found it a little episodic and Favreau's version is surprisingly able to solve that issue.  This live action version flows like a more singular piece of material rather than a melange of character meetings.  However, it never gripped me and pulled me in to the story in any way.  There was never any sense of dread for any of the characters nor any sense of excitement because I knew where the story was heading.

Young Neel Sethi deserves a lot of credit.  As the only speaking live-action human in the cast, he more than captivates and holds our attention.  His comedic timing is spot on and considering he stars with a cast of all computer animated creatures, his acting ability deserves commendation.  The voice cast is also stellar.  I loved the mellifluous slyness of George Sanders' vocalization of Shere Khan in the original, but Idris Elba's menacing anger in this updated version may win out for me in the end.  Similarly, Bill Murray as Baloo and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera strike a nice balance of paying a bit of homage to the original vocals while also crafting their own tones.  However, by the time Christopher Walken's King Louie comes into the picture, I found myself shrugging my shoulders and not really caring because I knew exactly what the end result was going to be at the end of the scene.

Admittedly, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum with 2016's The Jungle Book.  I think it's a better movie than the original and the special effects are incredibly realistic, but I also find myself oddly detached from the proceedings in the update because the story is too similar.  Therein lies the problem with these recent Disney updates.  Although they may be well-crafted, they lack any emotional oomph because they don't do enough to reinvigorate or reimagine the stories we know so well.  Maybe my mind will change when next year's reimagining of Beauty and the Beast comes out...but I will not get my hopes up in the slightest.  As for this version of The Jungle Book, it's certainly good, but perhaps it'd be better if you were completely unfamiliar with the Disney source material.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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