King of the Jungle

A Review of “The Jungle Book”



Promotional poster for “The Jungle Book.”

Disney’s new movie “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau, is a cinematic spectacle. Baloo’s fur flows and shakes with shocking realism, the sound of Kaa’s scales squirming and sliding across branches is impeccably slimy, and the half-warehouse-in-LA, half-CGI jungle is packed to the brim with vibrant flora and fauna. Visually, it is one of the most breathtaking films I have ever seen, which is especially remarkable considering almost the entire movie was created by digital effect masters sitting behind their computers. It is a clear and radical departure from the hand-drawn animation of the 1967 original, but the film strives to include plenty of throwback details. Besides the main story beats, Mowgli’s loincloth, Kaa’s hypnotizing sequence, and a few songs, “The Jungle Book” adequately separates itself from its predecessor in that it is a fresh, new movie experience.

The astounding visuals, however, are not the film’s strongest feature. The supporting cast, spectacularly rendered as jungle animals, is massive in talent and number, sending the film above and beyond its source material. Bill Murray is delightfully aloof as Baloo, and manages to add more dimension to the character without tarnishing his prized dopiness. He nails his version of “Bear Necessities,” which was my biggest concern heading into the movie. Jon Lamson ’18 agrees, saying “Bill Murray was so cool. ‘Bear Necessities’ was the best part. He’s such a cutie bear. Almost as cute as Charlie Vrattos ’18 proposing to Claudette Ramos ’16 during that song in chapel.”

Mowgli’s other protector, the black panther Bagheera, is well played by Ben Kingsley. Lupita Nyong’o turns in another strong performance as the sweet, protective she-wolf Raksha. Scarlett Johansson, despite being in the movie for only one relatively short scene, nearly steals the show as the tricky, seductive Kaa. Each of these actors and actresses is perfectly cast in their respective roles. In this sense, “The Jungle Book” is truly magical.

The film, however, is not perfect. The most jarring misfire of the movie is the main character, Mowgli. Portrayed by newcomer Neel Sethi, the modern incarnation of Mowgli is not nearly as charming and believable as the original. Sethi gives an earnest effort to the role, but comes across as whiny, awkward, and… just odd. He doesn’t seem to connect with anything on screen, whether it be fellow actors and actresses, the digitally rendered environment, or his lines.

This is not entirely his fault, as it must have been extremely difficult for such an amateur actor to effectively connect with characters and sets that didn’t actually exist. Although he did act with the other actors dressed in motion capture suits, a good deal of physicality and presence is lost in the transition from what was captured on camera to what was produced on a computer. I don’t blame Sethi for his performance; such an undertaking would have been challenging for any actor, especially for one as inexperienced as he.

“The Jungle Book” is a remake done right: the movie is packed with enough heart and intrigue to surpass the original in almost all aspects. For every understandable tumble it takes, there are plenty of joyful characters and moments to keep the movie swinging from scene to scene. The film has much more than just the bear necessities.

Ha. Gotcha.