As much as you might like the recent string of Disney live-action remakes, I think we can all agree that none of them have improved on the original story. Even if you loved Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it’s not about to dethrone it’s cartoon predecessor. That being said, if enjoyable but ultimately underwhelming Disney remakes are the rule, the The Jungle Book is the exception. The
story and visuals are so improved that I left the theater, not Jonesing for the original version, but wanting to buy myself another ticket for this one.
It’s surprising that a movie with the combined voice talents of Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley could find a young lead with enough screen presence to balance the screaming star-power of the supporting cast. Luckily Neel Sethi is the living incarnation of Mowgli, right down to the little red jungle shorts. He’s as precious as a little wolf puppy, which, in the context of the movie, is the highest compliment I can give.
It’s worth mentioning that this movie is definitely scarier than the 1967 cartoon you remember. King Louie (Christopher Walken) is genuinely horrifying, as the family who sat behind me in the theater can testify. Likewise, Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is equally impressive; it’s not the first time I’ve been attracted to an anthropomorphized cartoon animal, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last. Point is… meow. Pun intended.
I originally wasn’t sold on Disney’s plan to capitalize on former cinematic glory by remaking beloved classics. It seemed like a self-aggrandizing re-mix of the company’s
greatest hits. But if the films to come have as much heart and as much charm as The Jungle Book, it’s a stance I may need to reconsider.