‘Jungle Book’ oddly casted


“The Jungle Book” tells a good story with gorgeous visuals and great acting. A child will love this film; an adult who’s seen multiple movies by the big-name actors won’t be able to separate the voice from the person.

This isn’t helped by the film’s irritating habit to re-write characters to fit the actor more so than demanding the actor play to the character. I get the impression they were cast more so for their marketability than because they were perfect for a given role.

Scarlett Johansson’s interpretation of Kaa is simply her stock throaty “sexy” voice and lasts just long enough to justify her name being on the poster.

It’s an embarrassingly short rendition of Kaa as well, serving only to deliver one long exposition speech before disappearing from the film entirely.

Some major creative differences arise in characters more important to the story, as well. These problems are particularly apparent in the character of Baloo (Bill Murray).

Instead of the bouncy, fun John Goodman-esque voice I’ve grown to associate with the character, Bill Murray’s version felt like an alternate reality version of “Garfield.” This version of Baloo is more of a con artist than a lazy hippy.

The 1967 film version of Shere Khan was a terrifying villain to me as a child because he was smooth, sly and dangerously clever. Idris Elba’s modern interpretation boils down to “murderer who yells a lot.”

Besides a basic knowledge of wolf-pack dynamics, Kahn really does nothing but rely on the fact that he’s a fricking tiger to get what he wants.

Meanwhile, the modern version of King Louie was obviously written from the ground up for Christopher Walken, turning the iconic song “Walk Like You” and modifying it until it sounds like the sort of song you’d hear sung by a Walken impressionist.

In fact, that sums up the big-name acting of “Jungle Book,” it feels like whenever you see voice actors take a script of a famous movie and read the characters in their voices.

Sure, it might be funny for 10 minutes to hear a scene from “Pulp Fiction” acted out by “Animaniacs” voice actors, but for an entire film’s length, the charm dies out.

While I have problems with the big-name actors of this film, I think it’s worth bringing attention to Neel Sethi’s Mowgli. For a child actor who had nothing but green screen and some sparse sets to work with, he did an excellent job.

His was the only character I began to think of as their character and not their actor name.

In the end, “The Jungle Book” will please Disney fans, entertain those new to the story and possibly be underwhelming for those who walk into the theater expecting their favorite actors to bring something new to the table.