A remake should only ever be made if it improves upon the original. Just cashing-in on the success and popularity of a past story isn’t enough and is also the reason why many remakes fail. Luckily, The Jungle Book seems to have been remade for all the right reasons.
The Jungle Book works better as a live-action movie. The fact that we are seeing a young boy interact with “real” animals has much more of an impact and makes for a better and more immersing experience. The story feels so much more real and so does the threats and dangers, of which this film has many.
Unlike some of the other remakes (Cinderella), the technology and CGI has caught up so well that remaking The Jungle Book into a live action story make sense. From the moment that Mowgli appears, running with his wolf pack from a chasing Bagheera, you realise you are watching something quite special and amazing. Like both Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it doesn’t take long for you to forget you aren’t watching real life animals. The animation ( and acting) is so good that you will find yourself believing that these animals are interacting with a man-cub, as well as talking.
The animation is only half that battle though and the voice acting is incredible as well. Each actor was perfectly chosen, from the commanding and reassuring voice of Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, the comedy tones and timings of Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear, the under-used Scarlett Johansson as snake Kaa, down to the scary and threatening voice of ever-impressive actor Idris Elba. These versions of the classic characters could well become the definitive versions.
The film would completely fail if it wasn’t for the only actual human in the movie being any good too. Newcomer Neel Sethi is great as Mowgli. Considering he is holding this movie on his shoulders, it never seems to phase the young actor, who goes up against acting heavyweights and angry tigers. His Mowgli has much more to do than the original Disney version, from more emotion in his story to just being a more active character. Sethi handles this role well and it is a much improved character on the animated counterpart, not just being a passenger, shooed from one animal to another but playing a role in the whole narrative.
In fact, The Jungle Book is a better story than the Disney original too. The threats are much more real and the back stories to the main characters explored deeper. Mowgli is a conflicted but intelligent young boy who wants to be wolf, Baloo is really a selfish bear who comes to love the small boy and Shere Khan is a much scarier prospect in this movie than any villain in the animated Disney films.
The threats are much more real because it’s live action. The characters carry with them scars, not just emotional but physical. Mowgli’s body tells as much of a story as the actual narrative, with scars, fresh cuts and blood adorning him as his adventure progresses.
Not that the remake of The Jungle Book completely forgets it’s animated predecessor. There are still moments which echo the classic, usually in the form if the songs. Those that want to hear the two biggest hits will not be disappointed but they aren’t quite the set-pieces they are in the “musical” version. It will also feel slightly strange having Christopher Walken sing “I want to be like you” as a very intimidating King Louie.
Overall, the live action remake does what would seem impossible and actually betters the original. The story is better because it is a live-action boy mixing with perfectly CGI and animated animals. Add to that the excellent voice cast and the much darker and realistic story and you have a perfect example of how you remake a classic movie.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)