By STEVEN ARVANITIS
Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is one of the most visually impressive films I have ever seen. The incredibly crafted cgi for the many, many animals to appear in the film are almost disconcertingly sharp. There remains some jankiness that comes along with having animals talk; however, it’s the small details, such as the the rustling fur of Gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken), that helps to carve a sense of photorealism. But, as gorgeously bursting with color as it is, with a fully fleshed out Jungle, greenery and all, a question remained with me throughout the entire hour and forty five minute run time: Who exactly is the film for?
The film draws heavily from the 1967 animated version in terms of plotting, covering the basic episodic structure filled with encounters from the monkey kingdom to Baloo’s sly antics. However, it loses some of the sweetness of the original film for more action-based proceedings. Quickly alternating between callbacks to notable songs such as “Bare Necessities” and intense action scenes, the film never stays within the realm of a wondrous adventure for kids or an intensely immersive blockbuster for adults long enough to settle for either, leading to jarring shifts in tone.
The voice cast spans a wide range of talent, however, including a well-casted Bill Murray as Baloo, who hits every whimsical, humorous note perfectly. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito do the best with the material they’re given as the underdeveloped wolf parents Raksha and Akela, respectively. Idris Elba’s Shere Kahn is perhaps the most effectively intimidating of the bunch as the vicious tiger who threatens to stop Mowgli (Neel Sethi, who struggles greatly, but almost understandably so, given the green screen covered studio The Jungle Book was filmed in) at all cost. This towering threat causes Mowgli to leave his home, encountering the hypnotic snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the aforementioned King Louie. With the protection of panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli now must make it to the “man-village” to escape the imminent danger that now surrounds him.
This all leads to one heavy set piece after the other, switching back and forth from the jovial to the intense, never quite finding a perfect in-between. The film stays sporadically cute, with a rich visual muscle that almost overcomes the lacking narrative, making for a decent, if fractured adventure. Jon Favreau has remained a consistent director that Hollywood can rely on, able to craft finely tuned blockbusters or personable tales alike; however, The Jungle Book disappointingly falls between. There is vast world in there, but the sharp clarity of the pristine jungle and its inhabitants is something the rest of the film lacks.