The second of Disney's live-action versions of their beloved animated classics, The Jungle Book, from director Jon Favreau, blends realism and modern sensibilities with fantastical characters and special effects to create a truly memorable cinematic experience.
The film takes its narrative and creative cues from the 1967 cartoon as well as Rudyard Kipling's original novels to construct a very believable world centered around Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphaned boy who is raised by wolves in a dense jungle.
The voice cast surrounding Sethi, led by Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray, is first-class and the animation that brings their characters to life is breathtaking. The animals emote much like humans, but not so much so that their nature as animals is lost. Like the new Planet of the Apes films, The Jungle Book is a game-changer for bringing computer-generated characters to life and films going forward will owe their debt.
Idris Elba's Shere Khan is one of the most intimidating villains of the year so far, and most importantly, you understand his motivations. Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong'o, and Scarlett Johansson also give stellar performances. Christopher Walken's King Louie is the weak link in the voice cast, and much of the sequence that features him causes the film to drag at the end of its second act.
What makes The Jungle Book more than just another live-action adaptation is its visual effects. Mowgli's jungle is lush and the lighting and color palette change depending on the time of day and where we are in the drama. It would have been easy for The Jungle Book to have heavy amounts of green in its image, but instead features reds, oranges, and other earth tones in addition to its greens and blues.
Fans of the original animated film will find a lot to like in this version. Favreau pays homage by recreating specific shots from the cartoon and inserting the musical numbers "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You" in organic ways. Although, for a film that looks so real and grounded, the inclusion of the music is somewhat jarring to the film's tone.
On the surface, The Jungle Book hits its main theme home. It's a tale about appreciating each other's differences and talents. However, a deeper dive reveals some philosophical inconsistencies, especially when viewed as a man versus nature story.
The film brings up questions as to how man should interact with nature (if at all) and whether or not man can be a part of nature. Throughout the film, Mowgli is treated as an outsider because of his human nature and his alien-like "tricks" are frowned upon. However, its those tricks that get Mowgli out of some pretty nasty situations and ultimately makes the jungle a better place. While these questions are not definitively answered by the films end, it doesn't detract from its enjoyment.
The Jungle Book is a fantastic update of Kipling's classic story for a modern audience and is sure to find a special place in many hearts (especially those of children) and its message is sure to reside there for many years.