The Jungle Book
Overall - 93%
The Jungle Book is one of several properties that, if you're a director, you might as well not bother adapting unless you do it right. Jon Favreau's vision for the classic Rudyard Kipling tale is exactly the film you want it to be. It helps when our beloved "man cub" is played by such a talented new face and supported by some of Hollywood's most respected actors. If you had any reservations, rest assured that Favreau's The Jungle Book is Disney at the top of their game.
When I saw the first trailer for (yet another) live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, I was conflicted. On the one hand, I knew the property had the potential to be amazing, but I’m too often disappointed these days and it’s made me a bit cynical. And while the trailer foreshadowed some impressive effects, it felt devoid of color and really dark, which made me think that it would be more of Batman v Superman-like in tone. If that was to be the case, I could go ahead and chalk off this adaptation now.
The fact that Jon Favreau—who directed the first two Iron Man movies as well as starred in the series as Tony’s Stark’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan—was helming the revival wasn’t exactly reassuring. Despite having essentially laid the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Favreau’s credits include Zathura, Cowboys & Aliens, and he credits Dungeons & Dragons as being the source of his directorial talent, so there was definitely some cause for concern.
After seeing the movie I can honestly, happily say that my concerns never came to fruition. What did come to fruition, however, was the version of The Jungle Book that you didn’t even know you’ve always wanted to see. Whereas the live-action Cinderella left a lot to be desired, there’s virtually nothing I would change about Jon Favreau’s interpretation of this beloved Disney classic. So in light of the film’s overwhelming success, I figured it was basically a requirement that I write a review.
We all know the story: Mowgli the “man cub” is found by a black panther named Bagheera in the jungle on his own, and is taken to be raised by the wolves. When Shere Khan makes his intention to kill Mowgli before he becomes a dangerous, full-grown man known to the other inhabitants of the jungle, Bagheera decides to take Mowgli to the human village nearby. Along the way, Mowgli meets Baloo the bear who shows him a way of life very different from what he’d known as a man cub, forcing him to reconsider whether he could ever really be at home with his own kind or whether embracing what’s in his heart is worth the risk involved in taking on Shere Khan.
The Look of The Jungle Book
It’s hard not to be in complete awe of the movie as you watch it. The visuals are so stunning that it’s hard to believe basically the entire movie was fabricated on a computer. The scenery is among the most lush, realistic digital environment rendering that I’ve ever seen. I’d go so far to say that much of the jungle in The Jungle Book looked better than reality and was easily on par with the effects you see in the likes of Gravity and Life of Pi.
Not only is the scenery exquisite, but the animals look amazing as well. This is some truly top-notch visuals. As you look at the animals, you know that they’re CGI because of the fact that they’re talking, but they don’t look cartoony in the same way as other movies. In fact, there’s a level of photorealism that’s unrivaled by the majority of today’s cinema. If you need verification, compare the elegance of Bagheera, Baloo, or even the larger-than-life King Louie to, for example, the painfully CGI snakes in Snakes on a Plan or essentially all the animals in the more recent Noah. Of course, with Disney being the entertainment powerhouse of the world, we expect to see quality effects, but it’s still a real sight to behold.
Talent in The Jungle
You can’t praise The Jungle Book without applauding the debut performance of our leading man cub Neel Sethi. The boy’s performance is stunning, especially when you consider the fact that—save for the occasional rock or stump for him or stand on—he performed essentially the entire movie in a studio where he never saw so much as a single tree.
The entire cast was amazing and despite being full of some of the most recognizable names in Hollywood, each actor was perfectly suited to the character he or she voiced. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera was wonderful; his British accent and distinct cadence brought Bagheera’s excessively uptight and almost prudish level-headedness for which the character has been known since the original Disney animated film released in 1967. Initially I was a little skeptical of Bill Murray voicing Baloo—I don’t dislike Murray, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan either—it really worked.
Idris Elba was perfectly menacing as Shere Khan the Bengal tiger, but I think my favorite performance was Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, the seductive serpent who tries to eat Mowgli. She’s someone that you probably wouldn’t immediately peg for the role, but she absolutely killed it. Now that I’ve witnessed the magic firsthand, I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice making Kaa sound so eerily soothing and foreboding at the same time.
Christopher Walken deserves a tip of the hat for his performance as the voice of King Louie. Channeling his inner mafia don—a character type for which Walken’s distinct tenor is unquestionably the archetype—Walken’s King Louie will surely be an audience favorite as the film ages. When King Louie offers Mowgli “his protection” in exchange for the red flower, it’s almost too much; although Walken’s voice is coming out of a gargantuan orangutan (Gigantopithecus to be exact), the scene would feel equally appropriate at a mob meeting in the back of an Italian bistro in Queens. And it’s details like choosing Walken for the voice of King Louie that give The Jungle Book such dimension and make it enjoyable to children who aren’t likely to get the subtle references (and who don’t even need to) while also appealing to adults who will.
The Jungle Book: Bottom Line
I really can’t express how wonderful a movie The Jungle Book is. If you’re a fan of the Disney classics, you’ll be particularly happy with this rendition as it’s equally faithful to Rudyard Kipling’s book and the 1967 Disney film. Those who have read the book will recall that it’s much darker than the Disney film, which turned the story into a musical. Giving us the best of both worlds, Favreau’s Jungle Book is tinged with dark and somewhat sinister undertones while definitely being an adaptation of the animated Disney film, topped off with little snippets of the popular songs.
As of right now, The Jungle Book holds an astounding 94 percent from critics and 92 percent from audiences on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus is as follows:
As lovely to behold as it is engrossing to watch, The Jungle Book is the rare remake that actually improves upon its predecessors — all while setting a new standard for CGI.
The Jungle Book is killing it at the box office, too. The film had an impressive debut weekend at $103.26 million and as we move into its second weekend, it’s sitting at $293.3 million. This figure represents seven days of showtimes and only accounts for domestic earnings. In terms of its overseas performance, the film has had an even greater return than here in the U.S. The current global total is $377.37 million and, again, is the return for the film’s first seven days. According to box office analysts, The Jungle Book could very likely cross the $1 billion mark, which is a major milestone for a PG-rated Disney film.
Seeing The Jungle Book was one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had at a movie theater in quite a while. The cast was incredibly talented, but Neel Sethi’s performance as Mowgli is nothing short of a revelation; expect great things from this up-and-coming man cub. Additionally, I’m impressed with how Jon Favreau’s vision was respectful of the source material while modernizing it at the same time. The technology and CGI that brought this beloved story to life has certainly raised the bar. It’s no surprise that Disney and Favreau are pursuing a sequel, and while that would normally worry me, I’m much more of a believer in Favreau and his directorial prowess after this. I think it’s safe to say that Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and the rest of the jungle crew and in capable hands.
Don’t miss The Jungle Book, playing in theaters worldwide.