Finding the middle ground between Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation & Rudyard Kipling’s original work, breaking existing barriers by pushing the available VFX technology into unexplored realms, and wholeheartedly embracing the third dimension to further enhance the big screen experience, there is no denying that The Jungle Book comes alive in vivid detail in its latest film adaptation but its story isn’t as fascinating as its visuals.
Set in the jungles of India, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, a man-cub raised by a pack of wolves who is forced to leave the jungle after their clan is threatened by Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger, for harbouring a human child. Accompanied by Bagheera, the black panther, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery and meets many different creatures, most of whom simply turn out to have agendas of their own.
Directed by Jon Favreau (best known for Iron Man), The Jungle Book begins on an excellent note, for it sets up its plot relatively quick, introduces most of its relevant characters in a sensible manner, and effortlessly encapsulates the viewers into its enthralling world, thanks to the remarkable efforts of its VFX team. But as the plot progresses, the story meanders over moments that should’ve ended up on the editing room floor and it remains dull for the most part.
Indian flora & fauna is extensively researched by its production design team and the forest is brought to life in lifelike detail. Cinematography employs 3D really well for the most part and does infuse some sequences with new energy with its kinetic camerawork but such moments are sparse & far in between. Editing isn’t up to the mark either, for its 105 minutes of runtime is strongly felt on many occasions, although John Debney’s score does manage to keep its adventurous vibe alive from start to finish.
But what really makes The Jungle Book such a delightfully pleasant, slightly captivating & somewhat refreshing adventure to sit through is its stunning visuals. Each blade of grass & every fur was created on the computer screen and is the result of the countless hours of effort put in by its VFX team. The similarity between the real-life animals & their CGI creations is undeniably profound, for what was only tinkered with in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is explored to its full potential in this feature film.
Coming to the acting department, The Jungle Book packs in a star-studded voice cast in Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken & also introduces Neel Sethi in the role of the only human in the picture. Most of these people are an absolute fit for their animal characters, with Murray, Kingsley & Elba greatly impressing as Baloo, Bagheera & Shere Khan. Johansson is hypnotic in her brief role of Kaa, but Sethi as Mowgli feels like a miscast and he is pretty much forgettable.
On an overall scale, The Jungle Book is a sufficiently entertaining family extravaganza that’s technically accomplished but from the storytelling perspective, it is deficient in both a compelling story & characters that are worthy of emotional investment. Shere Khan was the true highlight in my opinion, while the unnecessary inclusion of songs plus pointless wanderings in the middle nearly ruined the whole experience for me. It’s a shame because The Jungle Book really had all the ingredients to make it to the next level. All it required was a bit more refinement in its story and that same level of intensity that was present in its climax. Nevertheless, majority of the filmgoing audience will be pleased with what Favreau has done here. Not a great standalone movie but definitely a crowd-pleaser.