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When they’re not busy trawling through Marvel Comics’ back catalog, Disney is busy raiding their own animation back catalog for stories to remake. They’ve already made live-action versions of Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, and now they’re doing the same thing for The Jungle Book. (Next up is Pete’s Dragon, by Fort Worth’s David Lowery.) Like those other movies, this one has moments of undeniable splendor, but it hasn’t uncovered enough new material in the stories to really justify the effort.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories, the movie stars newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the human boy raised among wolves in the Indian jungle and tutored by the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). However, when the man-hating tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) finds out about Mowgli’s existence, he vows to all the animals that he’ll kill the boy as soon as the Law of the Jungle allows. When the wolves send Mowgli to the human village for his own safety, the journey brings him into contact with Baloo the sloth bear (voiced by Bill Murray), a laid-back yin to Bagheera’s yang.

The movie uses “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” from the 1967 animated musical (plus “Trust in Me” over the end credits), but director Jon Favreau serves these poorly, having no flair for incorporating the numbers into the action. More seriously, he and screenwriter Justin Marks replace the original’s 1960s cutesiness with 2010s cutesiness to make these fierce jungle animals relatable. It’s the wrong approach; I usually welcome Murray’s wisecracking, but his contemporariness is out of place in this fable. The filmmakers should have done something similar to Kipling, who gave the jungle creatures antiquated dialogue to make their minds seem less like ours. (Racist, misogynistic cheerleader for the British Empire’s conquests though he was, Kipling sure could write.) Sethi’s American accent might strike you as disconcerting the way it struck me, though given how few Hollywood movies have Asian heroes, I don’t know if we should be too choosey.

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Favreau is more at home staging action sequences like the one in which Mowgli and a herd of water buffalo get caught in a mudslide. The jungle locations like the abandoned city where the monkeys live are all the more impressive for being created on Hollywood soundstages. Favreau assembles an enviable voice cast, too: Christopher Walken makes a fair substitute for Louis Prima as the gigantic simian King Louie, while Scarlett Johansson contributes a spine-tingling cameo as the python Kaa. Even she’s not as frightening as Elba, who has a hell of a precedent to live up to, with George Sanders unforgettably portraying Shere Khan in the animated film. Elba can’t match the languorous opulence of Sanders’ bass, but he more than makes up for it in snarling, bullying anger. This spiffy new version of The Jungle Book will undoubtedly entertain kids who find the previous movie too old-fashioned, but I suspect that in 50 years, it’s going to look just as dated.

[box_info]The Jungle Book
Starring Neel Sethi. Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by Justin Marks, based on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories. Rated PG.[/box_info]

14 COMMENTS

  1. You gave it a negative review based on how it will look in 50 years?

    You’re not very good at this. Maybe you should take up being a food critic and base your reviews on how your food will look in two months.

  2. Well, Mitchell, I review every movie based on how I think it will look in 50 years, because every movie we have will still be around in that time, and in pristine shape. The approach seems to have worked pretty well for me so far. I also review every movie based on how it looks compared to other films currently in the theaters, other similar films that have come out recently, other films by the same director, and various other metrics. It’s tricky keeping them all straight, but that’s the job.

    Also, this movie didn’t do much for me in the here and now, so there’s that.

  3. Dear Ms. Lin;
    It is too bad that you are a total idiot with no artistic vale. I never saw or knew anything about The Jungle Book my entire life so everything was new to me and incredibly exciting. You really should change careers because you have no business reviewing movies at all. I am assuming that your parents dropped you on your head as an infant. Anyway, Jungle Book 2016 was one of the best ev er CGI movies aver made and the intensity was too real for me. Please stick with reviewing Hallmark Movies. OK?
    Keith Kiel

  4. I always respect everyone’s opinion, even those I disagree with. I have not seen The Jungle Book yet, but have followed it’s progress with interest since it was first announced. I am 56 years old, and a big fan of the original Disney animated version. I have already come to an understanding that this new version will not be what I grew up with…this is always the situation with remakes as I am sure you already know. My question to you is this: as a critic, when you see the overwhelming number of glowing reviews for this film, and compare it to the almost complete lack of negative reviews such as yours, do you ever feel like maybe you missed the boat? I realize that your opinion is absolutely correct and true for you, and there will no doubt be some who share it. Perhaps I will be one of those. Perhaps not. Or do you feel that the majority of those who loved it are somehow not ‘getting it’ or are not capable of seeing the truth of your view of the film? I would be interested to hear your take on this. Once again, I cannot fault your review, but I would like to know how YOU feel about the size of the gap between yourself and all of the other critics, and whether or not you think your opinion of the film will have a noticeable impact on whether or not someone will decide to see it. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • I must admit I haven’t really thought about being in the minority on this movie. I’ve been in this position before, and so has every movie critic who is not a hack. When you are, you stick to your guns and make the best argument that you can. Maybe I’ll see this movie in six months and decide I was too harsh. Thanks for your comment.

  5. hah what an insane way to appreciate cinema, by noting how it will be in 50 years time. the idea that anything strictly relevant today is bad because it wont be watched in 50 years is so silly. i think you know the movie is sensational but are trying to stick out by going against the grain. you are a hack

    • What’s so insane about it? We can see the previous “Jungle Book” just as well as the people back in 1967 could. In 2045, the people will have access to this movie and will judge it as they wish. They’ll also have access to my review, should they be interested. We watch movies from the 1960s and before and think about how they’ve aged. What’s wrong with wondering how this one will age?

  6. I haven’t seen it yet, but I always try to read dissenting reviews. Only way to get a sense of a movies strengths and weaknesses. I’m a big fan of the original movie, but also love the books. Your review has been the only one I’ve read so far that addressed the true source material. I now know that while I will likely enjoy this movie, I will also likely leave a little disappointed that still no one has made a movie of The Jungle Books. Too bad. They would make a great film (or two). Thanks for your thorough review.

  7. I disagree with everyone who commented and I am in 100% agreement with your review. I am a fanatic for Disney movies, and this was just not up to par with the rest of them.

  8. In contrast to the overwhelmingly positive views for this movie, I am in complete agreement with you. I have a high standard for Disney movies and the Jungle Book was just not up to par. It was disappointing that yes, although it was made for children, I feel as though that the parents and young adults that accompany these kids to watch this movie were not being catered to.
    Too cliché, too fast-paced, little to none character development, and AMERICANIZED TO THE EXTREME. Thank you so much for this review I support you one hundred percent.

  9. Just took the family to see The Jungle Book. Man did you miss the mark. What an amazing movie. Whereas the animated one was cute and fun, this one brought me to tears.

    Amazing work of art and entertainment. I am afraid you might have let your negative views of Runyard Kipling ruin your review of such an amazing work of art.

    Boy, did you miss the mark.

  10. I gotta say I’m loving the hate on this comment thread. I wish all my movie reviews got this sort of response. Can we keep the hate train going? Maybe we can make this review go viral. We can do it!

    • I think you’re great and people are mean. Keep on keeping on. Also we found it disjointed, over done and boring. All flash and no substance.

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