In 1967, Disney adapted a little book by Rudyard Kipling called “The Jungle Book” (1894). Most of us grew up watching this fun little movie, singing alone with King Louie as he proclaims that he, “Wants to be like you-hoo-hoo,” and with the friendly bear Baloo about the simple life consisting of, “The bare necessities, the simple bare necessities.”
Although a fairly loose adaptation of Kipling’s novel, as is the case with most of Disney’s work, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for Mowgli, the man cub, and his adventures with Baloo.
Now we have a “live action” reboot of the classic 1967 film. I put live action in quotes because the movie is reality about 95% CGI. But this does nothing negative to “The Jungle Book.”
Jon Favreau, director of the superb “Iron Man” and “Elf,” takes the reigns and delivers a product that I would argue is the best live action version of any Disney film to date.
Yes, you read that right. Among all of the flops that have made their way into theaters, i.e., Maleficent, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, 101 Dalmatians (I almost forgot that this one existed), and others, “The Jungle Book” is far and beyond the best one.
“The Jungle Book” stars a fantastic cast, beginning with the only non-CGI being in the film, Neel Sethi as Mowgli. This young actor has talent that many of his contemporary’s lack, and it was a pleasure watching him on screen.
However, the standout roles come from the mighty voice actors. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the Black Panther is the father figure that desires to keep Mowgli safe through his teachings and wisdom of the natural law of the jungle.
Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, the wolf who was entrusted to raise Mowgli, is confident and protective of her young man cub.
Scarlett Johansson as the slippery and conniving snake, Kaa, uses her silky voice to perfectly convince the audience of what a snake would sound like if it could speak.
However, the truly standout performances come from three actors in particular: Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, and Idris Elba.
Bill Murray as Baloo is the kind of bear that everyone would love to keep as a pet. He is the “every-man” of the film. When Mowgli meets Baloo, their relationship goes from strangers to friend in a very natural form and we believe that these two have become the best of friends when they begin floating down a river, free from care and obligation, singing about the bare necessities.
Christopher Walken’s King Louie is equally as intriguing. He is a Gigantopithecus, basically a very large orangutan-looking monkey, and the on-screen presentation of this huge ape gives a sense of scale that Disney’s original drawings of King Louie simply could not deliver. We are scared for Mowgli as he stands before this ape.
However, my favorite performance in this film has to be Idris Elba as Shere Khan. This tiger is vicious and horrifying in every possible way. His way of walking, speaking, standing still, laying down, running, growling, or even telling a group of little wolf cubs a story about the cuckoo bird, none of these convey anything but power and terror. Whenever Shere Khan appears we cannot help but be drawn to his presence and, despite the beautiful rendering of this strong animal, the credit must go to Elba’s voice acting.
In terms of negatives, I have only two major complaints. The first is that, despite Neel Sethi’s good overall performance (especially considering this is his first major film), there are a few moments where his acting falls into the unfortunate child-actor curse of not being convincing and just sounding like he is reading off lines. These moments did rip me out of the movie for a split second, but the visuals sucked me back in no time.
Second, I felt that the inclusion of King Louie’s song, “I Wanna Be Like You,” was forced and out of place, despite the fact that Mowgli and Baloo sing “The Bare Necessities” less than ten minutes before. King Louie’s song did not feel as natural and his monologue would have been much better kept as dialogue rather than lyrics.
The Jungle Book is as strong as it is precisely because of how good the actors are.
However, we cannot ignore how absolutely gorgeous the film looks. Every single frame is perfectly crafted to bring out the beauty of this jungle we are exploring. The daytime shots pop in the best way possible, more vivid and clear than any film this year thus far. The nighttime shots are a stark contrast, but still so beautifully put together that the change in tone of the situation is not only felt but seen.
I think that the rendering of these CGI animals is simply amazing. Beautiful, stunning, picturesque — it would take a thesaurus to explain how good “The Jungle Book” looks. Unlike most films that simply have great visuals, this one definitely offers much more than eye candy. A great cast of lovable characters, terrifying villains, and perfect usage of comic relief moments makes it one of the best movies I have seen so far this year.
This film deserves a watch on the silver screen. Do not miss the opportunity to witness an outstanding accomplishment of film making.