The Jungle Book Plot Summary:
In this retelling of the classic Jungle Book, a man-cub named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by wolves in the jungle, but when Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a ruthless tiger, threatens Mowgli’s existence, he must embark to the man village, discovering new allies and enemies along the way, and learns who he truly is.
The original Jungle Book is a flat out classic, and one of Disney’s most celebrated films. When this movie started to gain traction, I was both hopeful and nervous. The voice cast they assembled is awe-inspiring. Bill Murray. Idris Elba. Ben Kingsley. Giancarlo Esposito. Scarlett Johansson. It doesn’t get much better than that. Then I saw who the director was – Jon Favreau. I’m not a fan. I still cringe in Chef when he screams at the food critic, one of the most obnoxious scenes of the last five years. He’s simply a bland director. When I watched The Jungle Book, all my fears were realized. I was bored out of my mind. Are there cool moments? Sure, but they are few and far between. The movie is dressed up with a great cast and some good visuals, but not much else. It has such an aura of mediocrity, it makes me want to puke. Jon Favreau was given The Jungle Book, a dream project, yet there’s nothing compelling about this motion picture. What surprised me most about the movie’s failings was how inconsistent the voice acting was.
Let’s start with Idris Elba. I understand casting Idris Elba as Shere Khan is the most slam dunk casting in the history of casting, but that’s the problem. We all go in with preconceived notions that he’s amazing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Elba is perfectly fine as the villainous tiger, but I was never blown away. I wanted to be truly terrified by this tiger, but he’s mostly relegated to making hackneyed villain speeches, and occasionally catches you off guard. Sadly, he’s one of the better performers in the film.
Ben Kingley plays Bagheera, the fatherly panther who guides Mowgli on his journey. To be fair, I’ve never loved the character, but it feels like Kingsley mailed in this performance. There were also actors who over performed their roles as if they were in a high school play. Lupita Nyong’o, who we all know is a phenomenal talent, plays Raksha, the motherly wolf to Mowgli. She tries to mask this under written character by over performing, and it just doesn’t work. Giancarlo Esposito as Akela is a complete waste, as is Scarlett Johansson who plays the manipulative snake, Kaa. She’s great in the role, but is barely utilized. Even Christopher Walken as King Louie is just okay. Not only is Walken’s performance mediocre, but the character is supposed to be this eccentric monkey king, yet he does nothing but pontificate from the shadows. HOW THE HELL DO YOU SCREW UP CHRISTOPHER WALKEN AS KING LOUIE?!
The one actor who thankfully lives up to his name is Bill Murray, the lovable mischievous bear, Baloo. I was truly dreading the film up until this point. Baloo pops in at just the right time to save it. This is the one character who actually has some personality and punch. Murray delivers his usual brand of Murray-isms, but is more lighthearted, as he should be. His relationship with Mowgli is the only time where we get some decent character work.
That brings us to Mowgli himself, played by Neel Sethi. I understand he’s a kid actor, and this role is especially difficult acting entirely against green screens, but he’s merely passable. He over acts to a T, and even has a few Jake Lloyd moments. Yeah, I went there. He really needed to excel in order for this film to work, and despite a few moments here and there, it never came to fruition. I don’t blame him though, just as I don’t blame all these great actors for delivering inconsistent performances. The blame lies at the feet of the director.
Jon Favreau is the safest director there is. He takes no chances. When we look at directors like Zack Snyder, Darren Aronofsky, or even Michael Bay for crying out loud, they all have distinct styles. You always know it’s their movie. That is the exact opposite of Jon Favreau. The guy seems to care, and there’s clearly an effort here, but it still comes off as bland. There’s some cool action of Mowgli running, solid visuals, and the climax brings the film up a bit, but I was never wowed, not in the slightest. Despite a few interactions between Mowgli and Baloo, Favreau doesn’t know how to deliver a great character moment. Most of this is just watching Mowgli run around and climb things. It all runs together in a sea of generic blandness.
That’s what this movie ultimately is – generic. The score is generic. The dialogue is generic. It’s also very Disney-fied at times, especially in how the smaller animals talk. In the words of Chandler Bing, “Could it be anymore Disney?” Even the two popular songs they choose to incorporate have no life to them. The Jungle Book is such a rich tapestry of story and fantasy, and most of that is gutted for scenes that will look mildly cool in 3D. There was another Jungle Book movie scheduled to open close to this one that got delayed, which is now set to hit in 2018. That has an equally compelling cast, and is also directed by Andy Serkis. I have no doubt he’ll take way more chances than Jon Favreau did. After this, I need a better Jungle Book movie.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.