Eight and A Half Adorable CGI Wolf Cubs Out of Ten
“The Jungle Book” was actually a big surprise for me. I went into it without much background knowledge or really even any expectations, but it turned out to be startlingly good. The casting was incredibly well done, not missing a beat across its entire ensemble, the storytelling was an excellent amalgamation of the original Rudyard Kipling storybook and the 1967 animated film, and despite my personal bias against CGI, the film looked great. It’s a superb, imaginative movie that you should definitely catch, especially if you want a night out with the kids.
“The Jungle Book” opens with Neel Sethi’s Mowgli learning to survive in the wild under the tutelage of the panther Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi” “Schindler’s List”). Through a series of circumstances, Mowgli draws the ire of the tiger Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba (“Prometheus” “Beast of No Nation”). Forced to flee toward the nearest human village, Mowgli encounters Bill Murray’s Baloo, Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa, and Christopher Walken’s King Louie.
Now, honestly, I can’t get over how well cast the film is. Thousands of children auditioned for the part of Mowgli before they settled on Sethi, and it shows. He’s consistently great throughout the film, especially when you consider that he was acting against green screens for the entirety of the film. Idris Elba’s tiger has amazing presence as the primary antagonist of the film, dominating every scene he enters. He has one of the best villain introductions I’ve seen in years, and he only grows more and more intimidating as the film progresses. Christopher Walken’s character is in much the same boat, and for the short time he’s around as the Ape King Louie he kills it. Honestly I probably would have paid the ticket price just to hear Walken sing the iconic “I Wanna Be Like You,” but the role fits him like a glove. He transforms King Louie into a role that he’s been playing for decades, a Mafioso. The authority, the charisma, and the appearance of always being on the edge of violence are all there, combined with his gigantic stature in the film. He’s a genuinely terrifying presence, which is impressive considering he sings for a quarter of his screen time. The bear Baloo is classic Bill Murray as well, filling out the shoes of the 1967 animated Baloo perfectly. They, much like with Walken, just let Murray lose on a character. The Baloo he produced is the kind of hilarious, bumbling, lovable character that made Bill Murray a household name to begin with. I simply couldn’t see another actor doing a better job than Murray. Johansson’s treacherous and manipulative snake Kaa turned out to be the most surprisingly impressive casts. She took a silly character built on a myth about snakes and turned it into the creepiest character in a film where Idris Elba and Christopher Walken play villains. It felt like she channeled a lot of her character from 2013’s “Under the Skin” into the snake, which really was a genius move on her part. Doing so, she took a character that could have been gimmicky and really gave it depth.
I’ll readily admit that I’m biased against CGI. Often, CGI strikes me as being a cheap, lower quality way around doing what real effects have in the past done much better. Maybe it is just the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, but I doubt my perspective on CGI will ever change. That being said, it really works in “The Jungle Book.” Despite being comprised almost entirely of CGI, they really did do a good job with it, using some of the most advanced technology available to make a genuinely beautiful film. More importantly, it just works within the theme of the film. “The Jungle Book” draws its inspiration from an animated film and a storybook, so the vaguely dreamlike appearance of everything really works with the film. Because it naturally has a place within the narrative it doesn’t feel at all out of place, a good example of how to use CGI properly.