Relies On Graphics;
That Still Manage To Falter;
Characters Lack Depth.
Luckily, I have not seen the Jungle Book remake from 2016 and I always try to judge a film on its own merits and not by comparison, so this review won’t be burdened by the shackles that I assume many others are bound to. I was intrigued by this, not only because Serkis is the motion capture wizard, but because it looked to have a much darker edge than its parent material and I wanted to see how far that concept would be pushed. As far as the second point goes, I was not disappointed, but the first point requires some attention.
The visual aspects of the film manage to function as its best friend and also its worst enemy, at times. The backgrounds are lush and gorgeous, as the jungle itself, as cliche as it sounds, becomes a character. For something rendered by computer, it fully feels like a living, breathing world and it is a wonder to behold, as it often seems like Mowgli, Bagheera and others are doing. They revere their jungle with awe and splendor and expect us to do the same. But the issue lies in the fact that we are so focused on these glorious environmental shots that we are more invested in the background than the foreground. Sure, it’s the script that has problems with characterization and getting us invested, but when we are looking for distractions because there isn’t enough of a connection with the main story, that’s problematic.
The motion capture can be fascinating, but always feels a bit odd. Humanizing animals to this degree is hard to wrap your head around, and in this case the rest of the animals bodies often look blurred out and fuzzy (no pun intended), as if to compensate for the amount of time it took to render the facial expressions. So while the graphical aspects of the film are strong overall, they are leaned on too hard to try and stop you from noticing some glaring flaws.
I appreciated the tonal shift and I’m glad I watched this alone as it definitely would have terrified my kids. But there is nothing else to this tale that is new, really. Mowgli is torn between two worlds and must figure out where he belongs. But while he is taught from an early age to fear mankind for their brutal ways, the pack also has its own traditions that are violent, scary and hold questionable moral standing. Is the script trying to say that animal is no better than man in that regard?
All in all, I think this was an ambitious film, but one whose goals exceeded its abilities. Christian Bale did a great job, seemingly adapting to the motion capture style with relative ease. Oddly, I was less impressed with Baloo, and I don’t know if it was the Cockney accent from Serkis or perhaps his look that bothered me. I wanted more reasons to invest in the characters and believe in their relationships with each other, but never got the depth out of it that I had hoped for. The script from Kloves does no favors for the overall production, and an over reliance on shoddy visuals brought this down to average level. It set out to take the lead in the pack, but ends up just keeping pace.