There are plenty of complaints to be found on the internet about Disney’s slew of live-action remakes of their animated films. But when nearly every one proves a triumph in some regard, those complaints find themselves on increasingly shaky ground.
And Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Disney’s latest attempt at a live-action remake, is nothing short of triumphant.
The story is a familiar one, although fleshed out to reach its 108-minute run time (as opposed to the animated film’s 78-minute run time) and with some important plot changes, but the frequent gripe of “Hollywood has no ideas!” should not be inflicted upon this film.
The sheer experience of this film, and its accomplished, all-encompassing visual effects, should be enough to excite both cinephiles and casual movie-goers alike.
Nearly every review is mentioning the fact that this film was made entirely in downtown Los Angeles – and with good reason. Other than some CGI backgrounds that are distracting at times, this film is stunning. It’s often said that films transport people, and there are few finer examples than these jungles of India, made with clear passion and talent under the direction of Favreau.
More impressive than the settings, though, are the entirely CGI animal characters, who move with such naturalism and grace, it’s hard not to see why Disney has become a world-wide leading movie studio.
From the glistening fur of blank panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), to the realistic, imposing presence of the Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), it’s easy to let yourself forget you’re watching something created by computers and instead feel incredibly moved by these characters.
The emotional stakes of this film, which become very real by the end, are in large part thanks to the film’s excellent voice cast. Every major cast member gives a portrayal full of gravitas and credibility (Kingsley, Elba, and Lupita Nyong’o as wolf mom Raksha easily give the weightiest performances).
While Bill Murray as sloth bear Baloo and Christopher Walken as Gigantopithecus King Louis are the most recognizable (and funniest! Cowbell!), they never stray into cartoonish territory, but fully commit to their characters. They are also the only two with songs from the original animated film incorporated into this film. Murray’s rendition of “The Bare Necessities” is fun and enjoyable, but “I Wan’na Be Like You,” the jazzy number King Louis sings to Mowgli is less seamless. Not in any part due to Walken, but it merely doesn’t fit in the film as well.
However, credit where credit’s due: newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli is fantastic, and not only because of his believable performance in a nearly entirely CGI movie. He is precocious and confident as the jungle man-cub, without approaching the territory child actors often fall prey to: irritability.
It helps that Justin Marks’ screenplay gives Mowgli a meatier role, imparting a lesson of responsibility and community upon him by the end of the film. The script excellently conveys the rules and nature of this jungle to the audience. How the animals interact together, and giving them a real world to live in, make this film enjoyable not only on the visual level, but also in its story and characters. Also: this film has a much better ending than its animated counterpart.
This film is entirely enjoyable and the new “Bare Necessities” theme sums up why:
It’s familiar, but inventive, refreshing, and exciting. And that’s exactly what this film is. It’s a clear passion project for Favreau, who’s a long-time Disney lover, and letting us play in his jungle for a little while is a real treat.