How did you feel when you saw Avatar for the first time? How did you feel when you were transported into Pandora with the magic of IMAX 3D? Maybe the predictable plot didn’t stick with you, but the visuals certainly did. Now, take a look at this live action re-imagining of the classic Rudyard Kipling short stories, as well as the animated Disney delight from the 1960’s. What you see here in 2016 is an immersive trip into The Jungle Book that no other adaptation has ever brought to life, additionally exploring the same themes of man’s relation with the wild that were set aside by the Disney cartoon.
This triumph in Disney entertainment owes its thanks solely to director Jon Favreau, who people know for his lighthearted fantasy family fun with favorites such as Iron Man. Now, he proves to be a true showman of the screen in the same manner as Christopher Nolan or James Cameron, building upon several of the same cinematic techniques used back in Avatar. He knew the jazzy, family-friendly tone of the original cartoon didn’t fit the photo-real image he had in mind, so went with the feel of danger and mythology shone in Kipling’s original conception—a decision made for the better.
The result is a dizzying, majestic IMAX experience complete with grand waterfalls, sunbeams, time-lapse photography, tense mudslides, and eerie fog. Here is the real star of the film: the creation of each individual animal. Their walking patterns are all accurate to their real-life counterparts, with tangible fur textures that add to the weight of each character. However, they don’t look quite as real when they’re talking or making unnatural movements, so it may not be the best showcase of special effects you’ve ever seen. Even so, the visions of the jungle’s citizens interacting around a waterhole creates a wonderful sight, and the creation of the major characters truly makes The Jungle Book come alive.
Bagheera is voiced by Ben Kingsley, and he sounds miraculously similar to his cartoon counterpart. Shere Khan is voiced menacingly by Idris Elba, and the casting choice could not have made the villain feel more alive. Baloo is voiced by Bill Murray, who unfortunately make things fall apart a bit. He is literally Bill Murray with fur, snapping the typical Bill Murray humor, and removing a bit of the magic. But that is thankfully made up for, as the originally playful orangutan King Louie has been transformed into a gigantopithecus. He sits on his throne like Jabba the Hutt, rests in the shadows like Don Corleone, and appears genuinely threatening thanks to the spectacular voice and facial work by Christopher Walken. The most resonating of all the on-screen moments is the 150-foot long snake, Kaa, whose body coils the forest of vines overrun with echoes. Favreau made such a perfect decision in casting the spooky emotive voice of Scarlett Johansson that punches you in the gut. Then there’s Neel Sethi, the newcomer who plays Mowgli. While he does look, act, and sound exactly like the cartoon, he says all his lines in one breath too often, and never acts genuine.
The focus is not on the little boy raised by wolves. The focus is on the spectacle of the talking creatures. Although it may just as well hurt the product. Screenwriter Justin Marks has made some changes from the animated feature to expand upon the themes: Mowgli is already a grown boy by the beginning, not a baby found in the river by Bagheera; He is challenged in how he must learn to be a wolf, not a man cub; His resourceful inventions to help him come across obstacles such as drinking water are ridiculed by the wolf pack for not being “the wolf way;” He overall wonders, “how many lives is a man cub worth?”
But for every unnecessary change made, there is another change that makes The Jungle Book 2016 overall stronger than its animated counterpart. There is significantly more focus put into the weapon of man (the red flower, or fire). Each of the characters are more involved in the journey of Mowgli, with the exception of Kaa and King Louie. But that’s a good thing, because these characters each had the two best scenes.
I will admit, The Jungle Book is an enlightening contribution to movies deserving to be experienced on the largest screen possible. Here is what Rudyard Kipling’s original novel was about: defining our relationship with the wild which we’re guilty of endangering. Therefore, I encourage this viewing experience to all.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Chamontin, Benoît. Le Livre de la Jungle : une nouvelle bande-annonce et des images dévoilées au Superbowl 50. Digital image. Geeks and Com‘. 2016. Web. <http://www.geeksandcom.com/2016/02/07/le-livre-de-la-jungle-bande-annonce-images-superbowl-50/>.
Errico, Marcus. Jon Favreau Breaks Down Disney's Live-Action 'Jungle Book' Teaser: From the Digital Toolbox to the 'Bare Necessities'. Yahoo! Movies. Web. <https://www.yahoo.com/movies/jon-favreau-breaks-down-disneys-live-action-129130133927.html>.
The Jungle Book. Disney. Web. <http://movies.disney.com/the-jungle-book-2016>.