There was a certain sense of indifference that set in when preparing to sit through yet another live action adaptation of a Disney animated classic. It wasn't based on whether or not the film would be either good or bad but more about if it would justify the time and energy to actually care. Well, as director Jon Faverau has done plenty of times before it didn't take long before I became fully enraptured in the fantastical jungle world he had crafted and all feelings of indifference gave way to complete joy as The Jungle Book easily outclasses all of its peers in nearly every way imaginable. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime: 1 hr 51 min
Studio: Disney Studios
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Loves: Most of Jon Favreau's other films
Likes: The Disney animated Jungle Book
Hates: That all the CG in this thing won't be looking too good years from now
Do we really need more live action remakes?: They should quit while they're ahead.
|Despite being raised in the jungle, Mowgli still fears he isn't welcome there.|
Most who read this already know the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy whom after being left alone in the jungle to fend for himself is found by the wise panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) who takes the man-cub to the wolf pack led by Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) to be raised as one of their own. When the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) learns that the wolves are harboring a man-cub however he vows to kill Mowgli and any other that gets in his way which leads to Mowgli being forced to leave the only family he has ever known and face the dangers of the jungle on his own. Angered by the defiance shown by the wolves Shere Khan sets out to find the man-cub and claim his vengeance.
Jon Favreau loves to tell stories as if you are reading a book. He doesn't simply try to adapt the material into a movie but instead attempts to mimic the experience of reading a story come to life. He has used this particular style to great effect in some of his past films such as Elf and the criminally under appreciated Zathura. One does not simply watch a Jon Favreau film they experience it and with his attempt to bring the world of The Jungle Book to the live action world he has crafted what is easily one of the best films of his already stellar filmography (Iron Man 2 not withstanding). However, no matter how well executed the film may be there still lies the fact that this is a story that didn't necessarily need to be told again and that remains the only true detractor to an otherwise fantastic film.
|Horribly scarred by man, Shere Khan will stop at nothing to kill Mowgli.|
Don't let that last comment deter you though as that is about the biggest nitpick you will find in this review. Few films are made as flawlessly as this and even though there may have been little reason to retread this material which was already made into a classic animated film (and a not so good live action version in the 90's) that doesn't detract from the experience enough to warrant any sort of dismissal. As a matter of fact, just like Disney's pleasant surprise last year at this same time Cinderella, The Jungle Book succeeds mostly because of how it doesn't try to change the source material up and instead sets its sights on producing as true an adaptation as one could hope for which Favreau unequivocally succeeds at here.
The story of Mowgli is a simple one but it is in that simplicity that has made the story such a beloved classic. Favreau was wise in not changing things around just for the sake of it which helps it avoid the same pitfalls films like Maleficent and Oz the Great and Powerful succumbed to. Despite not changing much he does leave his mark though by bringing to the table the same sense of awe and wonder that made many of his other works such unique experiences. The jungle world itself is nothing short of breathtaking to behold and easily has just as much a character as any of the wildlife that populates it. As Mowgli parkour's his way through the jungle landscape it is easy to miss all the subtle details strewn throughout the mostly CGI created vista which will likely become more visible through repeat viewings, but it is impossible to not fall under its spell. Unlike most computer generated landscapes though The Jungle Book's aesthetics are convincing enough to allow a moderate amount of suspension of disbelief. It isn't up to the standards set by James Cameron's Avatar but there is little fault one can find with Favreau's extensive use of special effects. The Star Wars prequels this is not.
|Mowgli is easily put in danger all throughout the jungle.|
That leads us into what could be argued was the biggest gamble of them all which was allowing the animals to talk in a live action environment. Unless you are Babe live action talking animals is a risky proposition that hardly ever works out. The reason talking animals work so well in the animated world is because animation paints a canvas of fantasy that we can easily associate with fantastical elements that would seem out of place in the real world. But when doing a live action film the idea of an animal talking seems more silly than fantastical which is why most live action films tend to project the thoughts of the animal as narration than actually having them speak. That gamble paid off however as each animal in The Jungle Book is seen as a character more than the CGI creation that they are. This is in thanks to a multitude of creative artists who were clearly firing on all cylinders.
From the animators to the voice actors, their integration into Mowgli's world is near seamless and in many ways appear more human than animal. Fans of the original animated film will feel right at home when Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) arrives to save Mowgli and then proceeds to explain the "bear" necessities or when Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) stares into his eyes with her mesmerizing and dangerous gaze. By far though the biggest success of the entire film is a scene that strangely feels completely disjointed from the rest of the narrative and that is the arrival of King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) who steals the show with his musical number and subsequent chase after Mowgli.
|The only necessity this bear needs is a lot of honey.|
That isn't the only scene that feels somewhat tacked on though as the whole film seems to be meandering along as Mowgli wanders through the jungle but while that would usually be a detriment here it feels natural and organic how we move from character to character and set piece to set piece. The story of Mowgli is about him learning to be true to who is he while still respecting the values and nature of all the other creatures around him and on that note it performs admirably. There are those who if so wished could probably pick the film apart (the whole "Don't play with fire" message is a tad ham-fisted for example) but in doing so just means they lack the heart and soul needed to fully appreciate what Jon Favreau and Rudyard Kipling (the author of The Jungle Book) were trying to accomplish here. Although the film is heavily reliant on special effects for nearly everything, Faverau is able to traverse that hurdle with the ease of a true master filmmaker.
The Jungle Book is a entertaining mix of high adventure and cutting edge special effects that in any other hands probably wouldn't have worked. From the endearing characters and an immensely well realized jungle fantasy landscape, the film succeeds at capturing that same sense of joy and happiness that the Disney animated classic instilled in generations of children. This new iteration might have been a bit unnecessary but one can't argue with the results.