Jon Favreau’s update of the classic 1967 cartoon film is a technical marvel – but can it improve on it? Nicholas Barber isn’t convinced.
The recurring question in Disney’s The Jungle Book is whether Mowgli (Neel Sethi) belongs in a village with his fellow humans, or in the wild with the wolf (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) who adopted him.
The film itself has a similar identity crisis.
Is it a musical or isn’t it? Is it aimed at children or adults? Is it a wacky live-action version of Disney’s classic 1967 cartoon, or is it a po-faced adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s stories from 1894 and 1895?
Like Mowgli, Jon Favreau’s film can never quite decide.
One thing is clear, mind you, and that’s that The Jungle Book is a technical marvel.
A 21st-Century update of the Mary Poppins sequence that puts flesh-and-blood actors into an animated setting, the film has an on-screen actor as Mowgli, but the animals and the lush landscapes around him are computer-generated – not that you’d know.
So convincing are the digital creations, with their thick fur, roiling muscles, glinting eyes and twitching ears, that you could easily imagine that Favreau had broken all sorts of child endangerment laws by throwing a 12-year-old boy into a studio with a pack of wild animals.
Between The Jungle Book and The Revenant, it seems that if you want to see the photorealistic cutting-edge of digital imagery, then a bear has got to be involved.
‘A lot less fun’
The problems with The Jungle Book have to do with something more old-fashioned: the script, which meanders from episode to episode without ever picking up speed or accruing any of the thematic sophistication of Disney’s other current anthropomorphic animal extravaganza, Zootopia.
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