I’ve been vaguely excited about this movie since I heard about the voice cast for this particular adaptation. Now that a full-length trailer’s finally out in the world, though, I’m finding myself with very mixed feelings.
Will this just be a straight-up retelling of the original Disney movie? I’ve never read the original Kipling, so I can’t comment on any changes making this movie more or less like the actual source material, but the characters in the trailer are all definitely people (well, animals) fans of the Disney film would recognize. I am curious, given the quick, whistled snippet of “Bare Necessities” that we hear at the end of the trailer, if the movie is going to be a musical with the same numbers as the animated movie. I certainly wouldn’t say no to hearing Scarlett Johannson sing “Trust in Me”, or Idris Elba hit the basement-shaking bass notes of the last line of “That’s What Friends Are For”, but given the relatively serious nature of the rest of the trailer, it might be a little incongruous to have actual singing.
The Jungle Book is a rare beast among children’s films in that its only human main character is a brown kid, and it’s a relief to see that Neel Sethi, who’s playing Mowgli, is actually of Indian descent. Even if the movie is nothing more than a shot-for-shot live-action adaptation of the animated classic, I’ll still be more invested in it than I was in, say, the recent Cinderella film, since at least this movie has a protagonist of color as well as several people of color in the animal voice cast. (It also helps that The Jungle Book isn’t as much of a victim of fairy tale reboot hell as the Cinderella story is.)
Honestly my biggest complaint about the trailer is that it’s just so computer-generated. I know that CGI was probably necessary over more realistic/practical effects use—it’s not like you can coach real animals to act or move their mouths so fluent English can come out of them. But it seems like the entire movie besides Mowgli has the look of CGI about it, and even at our current level of technology, super-realistic animal CGI still has that little bit of uncanny valley feel to it that throws me out of the movie. Maybe once I see the actual movie I’ll be able to look past it more than I could in the trailer, but it does bug me.
Outside of more legitimate critiques, my one personal beef with this is that the 1994 live-action Jungle Book movie is a favorite in my family. While it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and I can’t speak to its quality, it did have some female human characters and a vague, feel-good moral message about the greed of British colonialists in India. (It also starred Cary Elwes, Lena Headey, Sam Neill, and John Cleese as Brits, so it has an equally impressive, if rather less diverse, nerd-cred wielding cast.) I’ll have to watch it again to see if it stands up to the test of time, but I might have a little bit of residual loyalty to this one lurking in my heart.
All in all, I’m not sure that I want to see this movie because the trailer got me excited for it. I’m still more on board because of the voice cast than I am because of any visual appeal. But I will probably still see it, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies whose trailers I review.