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Hey, everybody! And welcome to my review for Disney’s newest live-action film, The Jungle Book. This is a film that I have been looking forward to for a while. I was intrigued to hear that Disney was actually going forward with a live-action remake for one of their most popular animated classics. I was even more intrigued to hear that Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man, was going to be handling this project. When the first teaser arrived, I was instantly hooked because of the tone this film was going for; it was definitely going to be darker than the original 1967 film, but it would still have the same charm that only Disney can offer. Well, after a year and a half of waiting, I have finally seen it. And lemme tell you guys, it was well worth the wait. Because this film is awesome! It may be one of the best films I've seen all year, along with Zootopia and Deadpool. In fact, when I make a Best Of list for 2016, I am gonna save a spot for this film.
The story: Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a young boy – or “man-cub” - living in the jungle with a wolf pack led by Akelah (Giancarlo Esposito). He's being taught about the Law of the Jungle by his adoptive mother Raksha (Lupito Nyong'o) and panther friend Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). However, his life is upended when Shere Khan (Idris Elba), the tiger, threatens to claim Mowgli as his own prey out of fear that he will grow up to be a man. After much deliberation, Mowgli himself decides that he should relocate with Bagheera as his guide. Bagheera suggests that Mowgli live in the man-village, but Mowgli still wants to stay in the jungle (with the loophole being that he won't stay with the wolf-pack). Along the way, Bagheera and Mowgli get separated. Mowgli is eventually found by Baloo (Bill Murray), a sloth bear (even though he looks more like an American brown bear), who initially wants to use him to help with his hibernation storage of honeycomb. From here on out, it's a hair-raising adventure as Mowgli decides whether to go to the man-village or face Shere Khan.
Judging from that plot synopsis, you can tell that this is pretty faithful to the original 1967 classic. In fact, this movie has many different callbacks to that film, especially in musical form. Composer John Debney (who worked with Jon Favreau on Iron Man 2) has done a masterful job of writing his own score while incorporating some of George Bruns's score from the original. For example, the film's opening title sequence has the same music as the 1967 film did while Bagheera narrates with the same opening lines (“Many strange tales are told of these jungles of India...etc. Etc.”). Another example is when Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) the python makes her appearance and we hear the flute play the same opening five notes that we heard in the original film. There are many other callbacks that I could list as well. However, the clever thing about this adaptation is that it doesn't only reference the 1967 film, but it also references the Kipling stories as well. For example, there is a lot of talk about the Jungle Law and how important it is to the animals. They even recite Kipling's original Jungle Law poem verbatim (or rather, a shorter version of it; the original version is, like, 19 stanzas long).
The best element about this film is the CGI. I mean, wow! To think that this whole film was shot on stages in Los Angeles just boggles the mind. I haven't seen such great use for CGI since Avatar (yes, it's THAT good). All the environments look real and I think what helped it was the fact that it wasn't entirely CGI. I've watched some of the B-roll footage for Jungle Book, and they didn't just put Sethi on an empty blue/green screen. But rather, they put him on those stages and added some shrubbery and dirt (even a life-size snake skin) to add to the realism. The animals look very believable too. I had no problem believing that Mowgli was actually touching these animals, even though they were just CGI creations. Not only do they feel tactile, but the VFX artists have also managed to capture realistic animal movements. The visual effects company who worked on this film is called Weta Digitial. These guys are the same geniuses who worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit series, and both Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. So, yeah, these guys are pretty much the best in the business. And it's clear that in this film, they've upped their skills.
But, good VFX and reverence for what came before can only go so far if the characters aren't any good. Luckily, such was not the case with this movie. All the characters are the same ones we know from the original, but screenwriter Justin Marks has successfully managed to add different layers to them while still holding true to their original personalities. For example, Mowgli is still a brave young, naïve boy who doesn't want to leave the jungle. But this time around, he actually has some very impressive survival skills (in fact, his propensity to use those skills instead of doing what the animals do is part of his character development). Baloo is still a fun-loving lazy bear, but he actually can fight off other animals pretty well and is a little more tough than his 1967 counterpart. Bagheera is still strict and proper, but he actually has a more caring side to him as well. One of my favorite scenes is where Baloo is climbing this tall rock wall, but he's deathly afraid of heights. So, Bagheera assuredly tells him to “Look at me. Don't look down, look at me.” I gotta tell you, that scene just made feel so warm inside. And Shere Khan has definitely been improved as well. In the original film, he didn't have much motivation for his hunt for Mowgli outside of a general fear of man's gun and fire. But this time around, he is hunting Mowgli as vengeance for an injury he gained from Mowgli's father. Also, he's not as dignified and classy as he was last time; he's more angry and raw, which makes for a very intimidating villain.
But, by far, the biggest change in character was King Louie. In the original film, King Louie was a laid-back orangutan who had the attitude of a stereotypical jazz musician. He just tried to friendly negotiate with Mowgli in hopes of getting control of the Red Flower. In this adaptation, however, he's different. For starters, he's not an orangutan, he's a Gigantopithecus (orangutans don't live in India; kind of an important detail). And on top of that, he's much more threatening and actually tries to force Mowgli to give him the Red Flower in exchange for his protection. In that way, he's more of a mob-boss type character than a laid back musician. But, this is a nice change because it adds to the darker tone this film is going for.
Speaking of which, the film is a little darker than the original classic. Not that it doesn't have its fun moments, because it does. But when it comes time for the animals to fight, they REALLY fight. In the original 1967 film, what little violence was in there was mostly comedic and harmless. In this film, you see animals scratching each other and you even see some animals die. However, the violence never gets to a very intense point that's not suitable for children like the '94 adaptation did. I think John Campea said it best in his review of Jungle Book: “If your kid could handle The Lion King, then they can handle this movie”. I'm actually kind of glad that they went this route. With kids movies these days, they usually try to stay away from violence. So, to see some of this brutality was actually kind of refreshing.
If I had one tiny problem with this film, it would probably be the songs. Actually, lemme take that back; “The Bare Necessities” actually works better than I expected it to. The reason is because it's Mowgli's first introduction to a song because he's apparently never heard a song before. That's actually a very interesting idea and I like how they explored it. “I Wanna Be Like You”, however, is a bit of a different story. It just sort of comes out of nowhere and King Louie just sits still in one place while he's singing it. I know that sounds kinda strange, but it just feels like this song could have been cut from the movie and it wouldn't have had any negative effect aside from having one less callback to the original film.
But, in all honesty, that is the ONLY problem that I have with this film. When I saw this movie, I felt a buzz and excitement that I haven't felt while watching a movie in a long time. During the climax, my heart was racing and I was just on the edge of my seat! And by the time the movie was over, I just had this huge smile on my face and this happy feeling inside. Apparently, Jon Favreau and company are in talks for making a sequel. And you know what? I am DOWN for that! There is just so much you could explore with a second installment and so many different directions you could take with this story. Make it happen, Disney!
Bottom line: THIS FILM IS AMAZING!!!! Good job, Jon Favreau and company for making such a delightful, entertaining thrill ride that gave me a sense of wonder that I haven't had in a while. As for my recommendation as to whether or not you should see this: HECK YEAH YOU SHOULD SEE THIS!!! In fact, why are you even reading this review right now? GO TO THE THEATERS AND SEE THE MOVIE!!! You won't be disappointed!
That is my opinion of The Jungle Book. Stay tuned for my next Throwback review, available at Elijah's Film Corner (elijahsfilmcorner.blogspot.com)!