Many strange legends are told of these jungles of India…
and this contains spoilers.
Okay so I was going into this film with the idea of not comparing it to the original and judging it all on its own, but then it opened with a direct remake of the waterfall shot. So to hell with that plan let’s compare and contrast. First up both voice casts are good and are well suited in both films for the most part. I don’t think Scarlett Johansson did as good as job as Sterling Holloway, but in this film Kaa is here to dump a bunch of exposition on the audience and then leave so I can’t totally blame her for that. Also I don’t know how much I like the reveal that Shere Khan killed Mowgli’s father. It makes the whole thing take on the personal revenge motif and honestly I like how in the old version Shere Khan wants to kill Mowgli just so he won’t grow into a man, nice and simple. Mowgli himself is good here though. He’s far less whiny than the original and actually does have an arc of finding his place in the jungle. Thus not going back to the man village at the end, and that opens doors for future material as well as separating this firmly from its 1967 counterpart.
Although that does bring up the next point of contrast: the songs here suck. ‘I Wanna be like you’ makes me cringe and I think ‘The Bare Necessities’ could have been cut entirely with nothing lost. The film has a darker tone with onscreen deaths and the slightly more mystic elements of having the elephants not speak and are revered by the other animals so for me the songs throw off that tone. Having just the musical cues for them in the score was enough.
Back to positive things the effects shot of the red flower petals trying into to embers from a fire was excellent. In fact I really liked a lot of the animation here. It’s great the way the fur looks aged on many of the characters and I love how well they all move. I like the expansion on how the jungle works with the peace rock, although the code wore itself out quickly. I like how when Mowgli takes fire from the village he becomes, unintentionally, what the animals fear most: a man.
So all in all is it as good as the original? No, the original had its tone firmly set as a fun family film. So the songs worked and the goofy moments like the vultures had their proper place. Here the darker tone is established with things like Shere Khan being blinded in one eye from the red flower and then keeps getting jostled, by the unnecessary edition of the original songs and goofy characters interacting with Baloo among other things. The voice cast is good, but I wish characters like Kaa got more to do. However, with Mowgli staying in the jungle in this version that allows for more adventures with him there, and perhaps allowing for some exploration of the darker aspects of Kipling’s work in later installments. I will wait and see.