I’ll start things off by saying this. I’m not a hardcore fan of the original 1967 Disney animated classic The Jungle Book. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it never really captured my fancy outside of the animation and songs. With Disney’s newest live-action adaptation of their animated films, they handed the reigns over to director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf, Chef), and the result is easily one of the best live-action adaptations Disney has ever produced. The animation is absolutely stunning, the cast is surprisingly pitch perfect (with a few minor quibbles), and the story far surpasses the original animated film, allowing this version of The Jungle Book to shine in a way that previous live-action adaptations of other films haven’t been able to capture.
For a more in-depth look, read on…..
It’s always a bit ironic when a film set in such beautiful natural landscapes is created inside the walls of a soundstage. While The Jungle Book isn’t the first film to accomplish this feat (hello, Avatar), the advancements in motion-capture technology and visual effects allow the film to showcase some of the most splendidly animated creatures and locales ever shown on film. The level of detail on the animals is extraordinary and allows for the emotional range of the characters to shine through perfectly.
I won’t go into a complete breakdown of the differences in plot between this and the original animated film, but the story of this modern adaptation is more emotionally charged, and it’s quite frankly a better film because of it. Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a “man-cub,” has been raised by a pack of wolves after being discovered stranded in the Indian wilderness by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Accepted into the pack by his wolf-father and pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), and cared for lovingly by his wolf-mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), Mowgli struggles while trying to become part of the pack like the other young wolves. His presence becomes known to the malicious and man-hating Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who decrees that man is not welcome in the jungle. To protect his pack, Mowgli decides to leave the jungle, with Bagheera volunteering to guide him to the human camp where he will finally be with his people. Thus begins Mowgli’s journey, an adventure that will see him encounter the enormous hypnotic python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the lovable and carefree bear Baloo (Bill Murray), and the Gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken).
For The Jungle Book, Favreau has put together a cast of names that seems like an easy win on paper, but I’ll be honest when I say I had moments of hesitancy regarding certain choices. While Bill Murray is usually great in just about anything, there will always be the stigma of the Garfield films, which aren’t completely his fault, but definitely left a bad taste in the mouths of many. I had hoped this would be a chance to erase those mistakes, and after the film was over, my fears were put to rest. Murray is fantastic as Baloo, bringing a goofy charm to the lovable bear, and he’s one of the highlights in a film with many. The rest of the cast is pretty much on par with his performance. I had some pretty big reservations about Christopher Walken playing King Louie, though. While some of those reservations were confirmed (Louie sounds like a typical “Walken” character instead of someone unique), ultimately it’s that Walken charm that saves the character from being too much of a distraction. And kudos to the filmmakers for a fantastic little Easter Egg with Louie’s introduction that works incredibly well. After the credits roll, though, I think the majority of the credit (for me, at least) goes to Idris Elba. Anyone who’s ever heard him speak knows the power his voice carries, but The Jungle Book allows him to showcase it ways that he hasn’t before. Shere Khan looks incredible to begin with, but once that voice erupts from him, you hear the danger in his voice and the pleasure he gets from the fear he causes.
It may sound bad because he has the majority of the emotional weight to carry, but the weakest link is the only human presence, Mowgli himself. However, being the weakest link in a movie filled with such fantastic actors, I don’t really consider that such a negative aspect. It’s not that Neel Sethi is bad in any way, it’s just obvious that the kid hasn’t had the time to develop as an actor yet, and some parts of his performance feel a little wooden. While he absolutely nails the physicality of the role, and there are definitely moments where he absolutely captures the emotionality of scenes, there are sporadic moments where it just feels like he’s still learning his craft. Which is fine, but in the film, it’s noticeable with the absence of any other human actors on screen to play off of. Overall, the does a good job with the role, and what it demands from him both physically and emotionally.
Overall the film is a great time and gives the audience something new visually to experience. I saw my screening in 3D, and it worked surprisingly well unlike a lot of films released in 3D. It’s one of the rare times where the 3D just envelops you into the world, and you don’t notice the normal issues that come with 3D conversions. In the end, it’s a great movie, and one I was able to enjoy by myself, but will also enjoy taking my kids to see as well. And for this film, that’s exactly what I was hoping for.
Overall: 5 Nerdskulls
Watch the trailer here:
The Jungle Book opens nationwide on Friday, April 15, 2016.
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