Jon Favreau (Chef) can really make crowd pleasing films, and Jungle Book is no exception. This film is a visual feast loaded with cute moments and manipulative tension. It glides down like a well-oiled pill to make your tummy happy.
If I sound a tad conflicted, I am. I enjoyed the update of this story. It was entertaining. And the performances were amusing… and, like the original animation, the actors were allowed to be recognizable. Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah), in particular, knocked his Baloo out of the park. Ben Kingsley (Learning to Drive), Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle), and Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond) also did nice jobs and hit their marks, but none was very compelling for me. Even Scarlett Johansson’s (Lucy) snakey Kaa was only just diverting. And the two updated songs that were included felt forced into the framework rather than natural.
The issue is that for all the great ideas of Mark’s script (his first big feature) about growing up and finding your place and being yourself, the delivery of the story, like so many of Favreau’s confections, is very surfacy. There is no depth to the emotions because we never really fully connect with the characters. We are provided visuals and music that indicate something we should connect with, but we never really feel that moment itself. It isn’t the actors, it is the script, directing, and editing that leave it a beautiful, hollow balloon.
The quality of the story aside, the technology that is this movie is nothing short of astounding. There is practically nothing real on screen. It is all layers of CGI. It is at once enthralling and terrifying to realize just how real fake can seem these days. For this aspect alone, it is worth seeing the tale.