By Nico Beland
Movie Review: A (3 ½ stars)
Twice in a row Disney releases a live-action remake of one of their animated classes that manages to win critics and audiences over, last year there was Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, and now this year we have a new take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic story and Walt Disney’s animated feature, The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura, Iron Man 1 and 2). Believe it or not, this isn’t Disney’s first live-action re-imagining of The Jungle Book, the first being the 1994 Stephen Sommers directed film, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and the second, the 1998 film, The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story.
Some re-imaginings were better than others, but none of them could top the delight of Walt Disney’s animated classic or Rudyard Kipling’s original book. This one however completely took me by surprise, while I didn’t think it was as great as the book (and yes I’ve read the book this time!), this might be my new favorite adaptation of the story, even better than Walt Disney’s animated film, which sounds so strange because that was the movie I remember and watched several times growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Disney’s original movie, but that one was more of a standard kids’ movie, it was bright and colorful and had memorable songs, that’s not at all a bad thing, but it didn’t capitalize much on the dark aspects of Kipling’s book. This one however felt like a combination of all the previous versions of the story while still being its own unique creature, it has enough of the talking animals and some familiar songs for the little ones, while still having some dark and edgy moments to keep the older audiences in the theaters.
The film follows a young boy (or Man-Cub) named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who was raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle after his father was killed after battling the ferocious tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba-Thor, Pacific Rim, Zootopia) that all the animals in the jungle fear. When Shere Khan realizes that a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley-Gandhi, Schindler’s List, Iron Man 3) has brought the Man-Cub into the jungle, he assures that he will stop at nothing until Mowgli is ripped to shreds.
So Bagheera and Mowgli escape the wolf pack and make their way into the deep parts of the jungle where they come across many different characters including a slithering snake named Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson-Lost in Translation, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Her), a lovable but lazy bear named Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray-Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation), and a massive orangutan king known as King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken-Batman Returns, Antz, Eddie the Eagle) on their journey to bring Mowgli back to the human village where he will be safe from Khan’s wrath.
Overall, The Jungle Book is a visually stunning and epic adventure for the entire family, and I’m not saying that for marketing, no, there’s something for everyone with this movie. Whether you like talking animals and songs, or intense action and dark tones, it’s guaranteed you’ll find something to like about it.
The cinematography and animation are beyond amazing, I saw it in IMAX 3D and it literally transports you into the jungle and every moment on-screen is absolute eye-candy. Not once was there a moment in the theater where I wasn’t looking all over the screen, I could get lost looking at this jungle, the design of it actually looks like something out of James Cameron’s Avatar.
The animation on the animals are very impressive, I mean it, at this point I was so sick to death of all those talking animal films that came out in the 90s and 2000s when the animals’ mouth animations were creepy and not very interesting. This movie however, the animations as the animals talk seem natural, I haven’t seen animal animation this amazing since The Golden Compass or the recent Planet of the Apes movies, I’m serious by saying this movie could receive an Oscar® nomination for its visual effects and art direction.
Is this the best adaptation you can do with Rudyard Kipling’s story? Probably not, I would like to see a darker and more adult Jungle Book movie that’s more faithful to the original story, the drawback is Disney would probably have to “Touchstone” it, but if the crew behind this movie joined up with people who understand the source material completely, they could possibly pull off the greatest Jungle Book movie ever made.
As is, I don’t regret seeing it, the stuff that’s good is really, really good, and the movie manages to breathe new life into talking animal animation. Disney and Favreau knew what they were doing with this movie and hopefully Disney’s Pete’s Dragon and Beauty and the Beast remakes will be just as effective as The Jungle Book, it’s a visually stunning jungle adventure that must be seen in 3D (preferably IMAX 3D) to believe.