Take the much-loved children’s animation from the 1960s, add state-of-the-art CGI, remove most of the songs and fit it to the plot of The Lion King and you’ve got this remake, directed by Iron Man‘s John Favreau.
I entered this film wondering what The Jungle Book would gain from being re-told in photo-realistic CGI, and left it still wondering. It looks marvellous, proving we are truly at a stage now where the best CGI is almost indistinguishable from reality. But the flawlessly rendered creatures sit oddly with the celebrity voices coming from their mouths, to a point where it’s almost disconcerting to watch.
It’s interesting to see how children’s films have evolved from brightly coloured musicals, to realistic, violent, washed-out action films. With most of the musical numbers gone, and the two remaining being heavily scaled back, a lot of the sense of fun is missing.
Newcomer Neel Sethi is the film’s only connection to reality as Mowgli, but is unable to carry this burden, with a performance lacking the emotional maturity it requires. The ape Louis is gigantic in size and talks like a mob boss, meaning he’s king pin meets King Kong. The most enjobavle character is Baloo (Bill Murray) who provides some comic relief, even though he looks like he just mauled Leonardo diCaprio.
With the update of the visuals the film seems keen to justify its existence by showcasing as much technical wizardry as possible. So not only does it update scenes from the original film, but also, apparently, The Lion King (such as iconic opening and buffalo charge scene). If this succeeds I wonder if more CGI remakes might be on the way.
While it starts unsteadily it develops into an enjoyable action adventure, and improves when it deviates from the template of the original. I have no doubt that new audiences will get a lot of enjoyment from this, but with a feeling that it’s less than the sum of its parts it’s surely destined never to match the popularity of the widely adored classic it seeks to update. As a child The Jungle Book was my favourite film. I doubt if this version would have appealed to my sense of wonder in quite the same way.