Tweetable Takeaway: #TheJungleBook is a beautiful balance of special effects and storytelling. Tweet
Disney‘s 1967 animated adaptation of THE JUNGLE BOOK is a classic. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Baloo-fronted animated series TaleSpin that many of us rushed home after school to watch, or the 1994 live-action version starring Jason Scott Lee and Lena Headey that everyone swept under the rug. But when it came down to it, none of these adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic really appealed to me. I would rather watch Disney’s Robin Hood to satisfy my need for anthropomorphic animation and I only watched TaleSpin because it was wedged in between Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck.
When Disney announced that they were making another live-action version of the Kipling’s tale, there was a responsibility to watch it because, well, it’s Disney. Creating family-friendly, four quadrant fare is their wheelhouse. And with Iron Man director Jon Favreau steering said wheel, we were guaranteed, at the very least, a dynamic vision aided by the incredible technology the studio now has at its disposal. If nothing else, Disney would make a bunch of talking animals look flawless, and that was something.
But my indifference to this latest iteration of The Jungle Book was rocked after actually watching Favreau’s adaptation. The film squeezed out the child-like wonder buried in my chilly, jaded soul. Sure, it had all of those magical elements needed to repurpose Disney’s animated classic into a live-action blockbuster, but the filmmakers, including screenwriter Justin Marks, have taken care to elevate the story to meet the expectations of a modern movie-going audience. Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book feels like the Kipling tale as it was always meant to be seen on the big screen: a cinematic splendor of talking animals grounded in an incredible story about family and the desire to belong.
Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, a “man cub” raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle. Longing to prove his worth as a wolf, he works hard, but always falls short. But with the encouragement of his mentor, a black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), his mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), and the pack’s alpha, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) he perseveres. Even so, the resident tiger and disgruntled bully of the jungle, Shere Khan (Idris Elba) isn’t having any of it. He believes that Mowgli is a threat and that he should stick with his own kind. In short, he wants him dead — and he terrorizes the pack constantly because of this.
Realizing that he is putting the pack in danger, Mowgli decides to leave. After a tearful good-bye with Raksha (for real, I almost cried) he sets off with Bagheera to go find man and live with them. Along the way, Shere Khan attacks them and Mowgli escapes on his own and goes on an adventure, bumping into characters along the way including a snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johnasson) that is way too anxious to keep him around; a gigantic and coolly aggressive orangutan, King Louie (Christopher Walken) who wants something from Mowgli that he doesn’t have; and of course, the big cuddly bear Balloo (Bill Murray) who is essentially a honey-obsessed con-artist with a heart of gold. All the while, Shere Khan continues to be a punk back home. He talks smack about Mowgli and pushes everyone around, hoping that Mowgli gets word of it and returns for a fight.
It was refreshing to see Favreau get back into the family-friendly game that calls back to the days of Elf and Zathura. He knows how to bring magic to a movie and inject a serious helping of heart that makes you want to hug your neighbor and then call your mom to tell her how much you love her. It’ll also make you want a Balloo that you could call your own…or one of those gosh-darn cute wolf pups.
The Jungle Book is a special effects-filled spectacle, but those effects never take away from the movie’s main purpose, which is to tell us a timeless story in a way that feels new, thrilling and majestic. Normally this much CG could suck the life out of a movie — but Favreau does it just right. That these effects are truly top-notch – thanks in part to VFX house MPC – doesn’t hurt, either. The Jungle Book thoughtfully balances the two to ensure that this isn’t just a “special effects” movie. It takes a classic story with a good moral foundation and splashes on hyperrealistic effects that make you believe that you too could chill with a wise black panther and ask him for advice about major life decisions.
Favreau did a remarkable job of creating an outstanding family film that represents the epitome of Disney magic. It has a strong moral center, a central character who you root for, an ensemble of characters that are fully realized and a terrifying antagonist — almost all of which was created on a stage with a green screen with Sethi talking to a tennis ball on a stick. But the most remarkable achievement might be the fact that this was a jungle I found myself wanting to visit… and I hate anything that involves the outdoors.
Score: 4 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer