THE JUNGLE BOOK ½
PG, 105 mins.
2016, PG, 105 mins.
Neel Sethi as Mowgli / Bill Murray as Baloo (voice) / Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (voice) / Idris Elba as Shere Khan (voice) / Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha / Scarlett Johansson as Kaa (voice) / Christopher Walken as King Louie (voice) / Giancarlo Esposito as Akela (voice) / Emjay Anthony as Gray (voice) / Sara Arrington as Nilgai Mother
Directed by Jon Favreau / Written by Justin Marks / Based on the work of Rudyard Kipling
Jon Favreau’s THE JUNGLE BOOK is arguably one of the greatest examples of a live action film fabricated from literal nothingness that I’ve ever seen.
this Disney adaptation of the company’s own beloved 1967 animated film
(in turn, based on Rudyard Kipling’s collective literary works) a
“live action film” is almost inaccurate.
Roughly 95-plus per cent of THE JUNGLE BOOK was created using
bravura computer generated visual effects and there’s only one performer
from the entire cast that appears in human form.
Like AVATAR and GRAVITY
before it, THE JUNGLE BOOK is an unqualified marvel of
technological movie making, featuring some of the most eerily realistic CG
animals committed to the silver screen this side of LIFE
OF PI. Thankfully,
Favreau and company also infuse the film with ample and relatable warmth,
humor and heart…all of which are frequently absent from many
contemporary effects driven blockbusters.
it could easily be argued that Disney’s incessant desire as of late to
transform their beloved animated films of yesteryear into live action
versions is an exercise in intellectual laziness.
There have been good examples (like last year’s jaw droppingly
beautiful CINDERELLA) and some
mournful duds (MALEFICENT), leaving me
all the more reticent about approaching every new effort by Disney of
going back to the creative well for ideas.
THE JUNGLE BOOK is an interesting case study, seeing as the
property isn’t ostensibly a Disney one (even though everyone
associates it with their 1960’s animated film) and that there have been
previous attempts at live action versions (like the quite good, but mostly
forgotten 1994 film with Jason Scott Lee).
Despite Kippling’s work having seen the light of day on screen
numerous times before, Favreau manages to capture the frivolous sense of
adventure and fun of the source material while having some legitimately
compelling thematic material at its core as well.
That, and the fact that this JUNGLE BOOK inspires a sense of
overwhelming awe and wonder in its miraculously realized sights is just
icing on the cake.
story of this version will appease to devotees of the animated classic
while judiciously sprinkling in new elements to make it stand apart from
the pack. A young and
wide-eyed “man cub” named Mowgli (played by the exuberant and fresh
faced newcomer Neel Sethi, the only aforementioned human presented in this
entire film) resides in the Indian jungle, having been raised by a tribe
of wolves, including his “parents” Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o)
and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Life
in the jungle is a daily adventure for the precocious and always
inquisitive Mowgli, made all the more enjoyable because most of the other
animals around him and his family accept his presence with open arms.
One doesn’t, though, a sinister and dangerous tiger named Shere
Khan (an impeccably cast Idris Elba), whose contempt for mankind in
general has allowed for his easy hatred of Mowgli, whom he simply wants
dead. Realizing this new
threat, Mowgli decides that it would be wise to turn himself in to human
settlers, being assisted along the way by a congenial and wise panther
named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and a rather selfish minded and honey obsessed,
but easygoing bear named Baloo (the incomparable Bill Murray).
Mowgli does face new dangers along his trek in the form of the
venomous-minded…snake…Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the gangster-like
Gigantopithecus King Louie (an unforgettable Christopher Walken) that
wants to give Mowgli an offer he might not be able to refuse.
doubt, THE JUNGLE BOOK is simply one of 2016’s most exceptionally lush
and gorgeous films. I had to constantly remind myself that
this movie was the product of shooting exclusively on L.A. based sound stages
employing vast greenscreens substituted in for the jungle wilds of India,
after which time the mavericks and geniuses of Weta Digital and the Moving
Picture Company added their virtuoso computer tinkering to completely sell
the effect. As is the case
when I watch any film utilizing extensive visual effects work, I
subconsciously realized that everything I witnessed in THE JUNGLE BOOK (sans Mowgli) was
indeed fake. Yet, the film creates such lived-in, varied, and
authentic looking environments for its young hero to populate that there
was rarely a moment when I didn’t buy the illusion as being
wholeheartedly real. The
largest triumph of the film is, yes, making the rich menagerie of jungle
animals – that have to constantly engage with and carry conversations
with Mowgli – feel as much of a natural presence in the film as Sethi
himself. Yes, the animals
here aren’t real and, yes, they talk, but they’re all so painstakingly
realized and so strikingly realistic that after a short time you simply
forget that you’re baring witness to the most cutting edge effects ever
greatly assists the visual effects artisans here is the magnificently
assembled voice cast that Favreau has gathered, all of whom give emotional
weight, dramatic urgency, and, in some cases, comic relief to their
respective animal characters. Predictably,
Murray is in his devilishly sly, deadpan comedic element here as his
somewhat manipulative, but altogether loveable Baloo.
Kingsley’s level of typical performance gravitas lends itself
resoundingly well to his Bagheera, and Johansson effortlessly embodies the
sultry and seductive nature of her conniving Kaa.
Christopher Walken’s late appearance as King Louie might be the
voice performance stand-out for me, lending his entertainingly peculiar
and often imitated brand of dialogue delivery to his literally larger than
life antagonist with a real gusto. Lastly,
Elba’s Shere Khan has such an intoxicatingly sinister allure whose own
motivations for inflicting harm on Mowgli actually has some semblance of
logic to them, which makes for a highly memorable and well rounded
of course, takes me to one surprising element of THE JUNGLE BOOK.
Favreau is obviously not completely infatuated with just eye-gasmic
visuals here, but rather makes use of the astonishing filmmaking resources
he’s equipped with to further the story’s intriguingly thoughtful
themes. THE JUNGLE BOOK is
not just an innocuous children’s film replete with walking and talking
animals designed for our simplistic amazement.
There’s an attempt here to envision a vaster ecosystem of
animals that live by their own established rules and beliefs, which in
turn breaks off into various factions separating the alpha apex predators
apart from their vulnerable prey, only coming together to drink from a
watering hole during “water truces.”
There are obvious hints of an environmentalist agenda at the heart
of THE JUNGLE BOOK that thankfully doesn’t browbeat audience members
young and old with too much forced and contrived obviousness. The whole undercurrent that mankind and their ability to
create fire (known as the “red flower” by animals) has led to the
jungle’s water parched conditions – and, in turn, Shere Khan’s
ultimatum that he’ll kill Mowgli at the end of the drought based on his
association to his species – makes the dramatic stakes of THE JUNGLE
BOOK all the more compellingly dire.
And maybe Khan has a point about humanity’s scorched earth
tendencies and how they threaten the animal kingdom as a whole?
There’s a lot going on in THE JUNGLE BOOK beyond its magnificently envisioned artifice. Not only is it an exciting and frequently action packed fable, but the film still has time to comment on man’s abusive obsessions with nature and how youthful innocence is lost as a result of that. There are a few issues that hold it back from achieving true greatness, like some of the songs from the 1967 original irregularly being thrown into the proceedings to distracting effect (they’re spirited and enjoyable, to be sure, but their inclusion here unnecessarily took me out of the moment of individual scenes). Still, this live action re-imagining of an iconic Disney animated film is in a whole other league unto itself, bolstered by superlative voice work, mesmerizing set pieces, and magnificently engineered visual effects that masterfully work in concert with empowered storytelling while not overwhelming it. The latter in particular is a decidedly hard feat to successfully pull off during these days of empty minded cinematic eye candy dominating the cineplexes, but THE JUNGLE BOOK audaciously and confidently seems equal to the task.