The Jungle Book is a story that most of us are already familiar with. The life action/CGI remake of the Disney classic is about a boy named Mowgli (played by child actor Neel Sethi) being raised by a pack of wolves, and trouble comes when Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a menacing tiger, considers Mowgli an enemy. To avoid bringing trouble to his pack, Mowgli decided to leave and journey to the nearest human village, where he supposedly belong to.
This could have been a very interesting movie examining the dynamics of the relationship between humans and animals, as well as the question of nature vs. nurture. At the very least, it should be fun. Unfortunately, the episodic nature of the storyline made the movie draggy and disjointed.
Making matters worse was Neel Sethi’s inconsistent performance. Sure, he nailed it at times, but for most of the movie, I was never convinced he is Mowgli. It didn’t help that Mowgli, as the protagonist and the only speaking human, came off as rather whiny at times. After the millionth time of hearing him complain about not wanting to leave the jungle, I was beginning to think that Shere Khan might be right after all.
I suppose that right now it sounds as if I do not like the movie, but that’s not quite the case. The movie is saved by brilliant voice acting, where each of the talking animals seemed more likable than Mowgli. I especially enjoyed Ben Kingsley’s stand-out performance as Bagheera the panther. Idris Elba, as usual, is ever reliable, channeling much malice and ferocity. Between Zootopia, Finding Dory and Bastille Day, it’s good to see that Idris Elba is having a productive year. The rest of the cast – Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Bill Murray and Giancarlo Esposito – were great as well, holding the movie together when Sethi failed to do so.
The CGI is good, although in some scenes it was quite easy to tell that they cut some corners. My favourite scene involved the first appearance of the elephants, where they emerged from the mist. It was easy to see why Bagheera revered them; you too, will get the sense that these creatures are not quite of this world.
In the end, the movie is alright. It could have been great, but considering that this is Sethi’s first appearance on the big screen, I could cut him some slack. After all, it’s not everyday that a non-white actor gets the role of an Asian character. There might be a sequel coming up, but you can bet that I’ll be more excited to see Bagheera than Mowgli.
One final note: I watched this in a crowded theater, filled with parents and kids. I personally do not think this movie is suitable for young kids, judging from how restless they got. Most of the issues discussed were probably too deep for most kids below seven years old. Therefore, the movie will fail to hold a kid’s attention during the duller moments.