I did not think the world needed another Jungle Book movie. I felt the same about Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. I am too young to have any warm feelings toward the Disney cartoon – that movie felt old-fashioned to me as a kid, and I couldn’t watch it. We never read the books, and I was never a boy scout. And don’t get me started on this “live action” nonsense – this may be more sophisticated animation, a less cartoony cartoon, but this stuff is 95% computer-generated.
Anyway, as you may have gleaned: a “mean” tiger named Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) eats some humans in the jungle. He’s the menacing villain of the story, even though the tiger was only doing as tigers do. But white people think they own everything they see and touch and feel, and are surprised not be welcomed with open arms whenever they attempt to colonize new lands. The jungle was never meant for humans, and almost everything about the jungle makes that abundantly clear. Anyway, the dead humans leave behind a baby, Mowgli, who is accepted by and raised by a literal pack of wolves. Mowgli is mentored by a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), and a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis). They try to teach him the ways of the jungle, but they also know the strange animal called man is edging in on their territory, and it can only be an asset to have one of them among them.
At PG-13, this is a darker, less family-friendly version of the Jungle Book. Mowgli’s story has always had something to say about fitting in, and whether how we look has ever been the best way to judge who is one of us, and who is not. But, we’ve obviously been told this story several times before, and Serkis’ version gives us nothing new, just some special effects and his trademark motion capture that actually brings nothing to the table. There’s no charm, there’s no heart. Andy Serkis may have donned the green suit to give life to Baloo, but he’s never seemed more cold and aloof. He’s not the same Baloo that people have loved for generations. This isn’t the same Jungle Book. It’s dark and it’s bloody – so, for the rare person who wishes beloved children’s books played more like war movies, I guess this is pay dirt – but for the rest of us, this is a miss.