|'The cold CGI is no match for the animated vision of the original; the script is not as sharp; the charm isn't here.'|
Disney's 1967 The Jungle Book is timeless. Whilst it may have aged, the years have not wearied it, nor its visual style, its songs and superb characters. It is old yes, perhaps frayed around the edges to younger eyes, yet it will still be being watched by those very younger eyes after a subsequent fifty years have passed.
Herein lies the problem with The Jungle Book, 2016. Whilst it does have a level of solid execution (Jon Favreau's directing history guarantees at least that nowadays), it lacks magic. The cold CGI is no match for the animated vision of the original; the script is not as sharp; the charm isn't here. Yes, the technology continues to be impressive, but if anyone looks at this and cannot see that it will look dated within ten years then they are not looking hard enough.
The script though is the biggest culprit in not capturing the je ne sais quoi the simple story needs. Take Baloo as a prime example (Bill Murray). Screenwriter Justin Marks has a home run waiting to happen in the shape of a beloved character, a bear who, after all, lives by the bear necessities of life and one of the most beloved actors going. But Baloo's moments feel flat. When paired with Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), yes, Marks finds some emotion, but his introduction with Mowgli (Neel Sethi), at the heart of the 1967 version, is an extended joke without enough of a punchline.
Sethi, however, and the rest of the cast for that matter, do sterling work with what is here. Introduced in one of Favreau's few missteps (shaky cam and massive amounts of CGI do not mix), Mowgli develops into a rambunctious protagonist, on a par with his characterisation in the animation. He is supported well by the tremendous voice cast, but it is his show to carry and he does it well.
By the time he has made it to King Louie (Christopher Walken) however, the seeds of the film's discontent have been well and truly sown. Walken, sending himself up again, does good work, heading a band of apparently criminal-like monkeys, in a gloomy well-realised setting. But the trotting out of I Wanna Be Like You feels tired, as do similar forays into the musical numbers. Favreau apparently had to fight for the inclusion of the songs and, really, it shows. Fully realised, show stoppers, of significant focus, would probably have done a lot to restore the soul of a film that, whilst OK, is a long way from the heights the material has previously attained.
The Jungle Book was streaming on TalkTalk TV Store.