Disney is on fire! It appears the studio is in the midst of a new golden age when it comes to cinema. Now they have hit another home run with a live adaptation of the Disney animated classic, The Jungle Book.
The Jungle Book is good wholesome family entertainment that re-imagines the classic tale and stays true to the heart of it all.
Director Jon Favreau has directed diverse films like Elf, Iron Man, and Chef and now he brings awe-inspiring effects to the 1967 animated classic based on Rudyard Kipling’s beloved book.
The only actor in this film is Neel Sethi who plays the 10-year-old man-cub named Mowgli. The rest of the cast is made up of recognizable voices that help make the CGI animals come alive.
Finally we have a film that actually utilizes 3D in all of its intended glory. As soon as the film begins, it sucks you into the deep jungle, and you’ll be amazed at how seamless the effects are.
Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken, all bring something to this production. Sadly, the film is also notable as the last performance of comedian Garry Shandling who passed away shortly after production.
In case you forgot, the story goes as follows: after his father is murdered, Mowgli is found by a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and is sent to live with the wolves who make him a part of their pack.
Shere Khan discovers the man-cub, that the wolves are raising, and demands that the wolfpack turn Mowgli over to him, so that the boy doesn’t grow up to become a man who can harness the power of the “red flower” (fire).
The animals live by the laws of the jungle, and when there is a water shortage, they come together to make sure that law and order prevail. However, that truce is disrupted by a very large and scarred up tiger named Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba). Smaller children might find Khan too scary, and there is a moment in the film that even had me jumping out of my seat.
Scarlett Johansson plays the hypnotic python Kaa, and Christopher Walken voices the gigantic ape named King Louie.
Walken’s voice acting was solid, but he goes from singing the fun Disney tune “I Wan’na Be Like You,” to being a scary and vicious monkey who wants to smash Mowgli into pieces. It’s not the Monkey King I remember, but it kept with the darker tone of the film. Once again, younger kids may find parts like this a tad too scary.
That said, this film is gorgeous to look at, and I haven’t seen 3D wow me like this since James Cameron’s Avatar. At first I thought I would have problems with having animals in CGI form, but kudos to Favreau and his VFX team who brought so much life to all the jungle critters.
Most of you know the story so there is no reason to rehash, but this version is a tad darker than what you probably remember. Favreau stays true to not only the overall essence of the book, but he also pays homage to Disney’s animated version, music included. Yes they randomly break into song that we’ve grown to love like “The Bare Necessities” by our favorite bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray).
This is where the film really starts to take off. Murray has scene-stealing moments as the lazy hustler bear, who actually looks like he had a bit too much of that jungle weed. Mowgli and Baloo find out that they need each other, and instead of living with man, the boy becomes Baloo’s partner in crime. I prefer this stoner bear rather than the one we saw earlier in the year that used Leonardo DiCaprio as a chew toy.
There are some very cool action scenes in this. How they were able to have a live action Mowgli run along the tree branches and have everything look so real and authentic is a credit to not only the visual effects team, but to Neel Sethi’s work in front of a green screen. Full marks for this young actor who had to carry this film on his own without other actors to work off of.
It’s quite clear that Favreau loves this story and put his full heart and soul into recreating the magic we felt when we first saw it play out as kids. Now we’re passing that Disney magic on to a new generation.
That’s the key here. This film is made for children and you need to know that going in. Sure there is something for everyone, but it’s great to see such a big production targeted at the munckins. We need more of these because this is what going to the movies should be all about.
Take your older kids to this. Any child below the age of 5 might have issues with some of the scarier scenes I mentioned above.
Kids will love this and that’s the most important part of this review. It’s a nice retelling and update to some very wonderful literature. I have no problems giving this film 3.5 out of 5. Don’t wait to see this at home, it’s meant to be seen on a large screen in a theatre.
The Jungle Book is magical, and brings a sense of wonder to the silver screen. Although a lot of reviews have been praising it, don’t go into this with huge expectations. In my opinion, the best Disney live action adaptation is still last year’s Cinderella, and although The Jungle Book is good, it never reaches that level of greatness. But I’m okay with that.
My biggest problem was bringing back the music and maybe trying to re-enact too much of the animated version. I really wish that Favreau was a bit more original in his storytelling and allowed the film to marinate longer in the darkness, but that might be my own personal and demented sense of taste talking. It’s tough to be too critical of a film that never pretends to be anything else but family fun.