The Jungle Book Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Justin Marks
Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Neel Sethi
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG | 105 Minutes
Release Date: April 15, 2016
There’s really only one word to describe The Jungle Book: magical. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef), this live-action adaptation of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film is a miracle of modern filmmaking, combining state-of-the-art special effects with heartfelt storytelling.
Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli, a young boy orphaned in the jungle as an infant. Rescued by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli is raised by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), an Indian wolf couple who adopt the “man-cub” as one of their own. But Mowgli finds he is no longer safe in the jungle when the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat.
Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli sets out for the man village, guided by Bagheera and the benevolent bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Along the way, the man-cub encounters creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart, including the seductive python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (Christopher Walken), a smooth-talking Gigantopithecus who wants man’s deadly red flower: fire.
Favreau’s reimagining of The Jungle Book embraces not only the mythic properties of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 novel and the charm of Disney’s 1967 animated classic, but it also offers audiences a new, immersive experience. In looking at Hollywood’s recent cinematic offerings, whether it’s Michael Bay’s Transformers films or Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it seems that most studios have forgotten what it means to satisfy an audience. A movie requires more than pixels and big-budget production values – it demands emotion.
With a steady string of hits including Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s evident that Walt Disney Pictures is one of the only studios telling stories that people actually care about. And like those films, The Jungle Book is a thrilling cinematic adventure that provides a satisfying emotional experience. Favreau recognizes that spectacle is meaningless unless you’re engaged with the characters and invested in their journey. Spectacle, or in this case, photorealistic computer-generated visual effects, should be at the service of the story, not the other way around.
At the heart of this story is 10-year-old Neel Sethi, who makes for a great Mowgli. As the only human character to appear on screen, Sethi has to call upon his imagination to visualize the fantastical world around him. He embodies the vulnerability and pluckiness of the character, and without his warm and accessible performance, The Jungle Book would be technically impressive, but emotionally empty.
As for the technical side of things, the movie’s visual effects are brilliantly realized with cutting-edge technology and the work of a talented ensemble of technicians and performers. More than 70 CG animal species were created from scratch for the film, with simulated muscles, skin, and fur. Like Life of Pi and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Jungle Book presents biological forms in ways that are nearly indistinguishable from reality. In 3D, it is a truly immersive experience that sets a new standard for CGI.
The Jungle Book is lovingly executed and utterly splendid. Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks have created the rare remake that not only sets itself apart from the previous adaptations but will also stand with them as a cherished classic. Some of my favorite moviegoing experiences have been watching something that makes me feel like a kid again – something so magical that it acts as a time machine, teleporting me back to a time when I held everything in such wonder. That’s The Jungle Book – a heart-swelling journey into the past that enriches the present.