As a movie I’ve been looking forward to for some time, I can honestly say The Jungle Book met all of my expectations. Director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks have done an impeccable job adapting the old Disney adaptation into a CG fueled extravaganza. However, this still may not be the version for fans of the book, as it more closely resembles the Disney classic than Kipling’s narrative.
The plot itself was obviously meticulously mulled over so the writers could find the best parts to make more emotionally investing and tense. As such, a lot of liberties were taken with the original adaptation of the work. Shere Khan, the vicious tiger hunting Mowgili (and voiced by Idris Elba), has more screen time this time around, and has a stronger and more dangerous presence. One sequence in which the villain hunts the protagonist in an open field shows how much of a threat he really is (and also features a small Easter egg for fans of the book).
The creative team was also able to make the story more mature, adopting a darker tone and more thrilling atmosphere. There’s even some subtext the film has to offer (Mowgli’s inner struggle, the role of man in nature), paving the way for discussions with others who have watched it. However, it should be noted that the narrative isn’t the deepest in film, or even that a Disney film has to offer. It’s still the very direct man vs. nature story from the book and 1967 movie. Nonetheless, fans of the older works should have no qualms with the narrative.
The cast is truly incredible. Disney recruited some of the biggest names in acting to fill the roles of the characters. The Jungle Book features the talents of Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, and Scarlett Johansson, to name a few (or all of the main characters). All of the actor’s do a remarkable job of making their characters come to life. However, the bulk of the film is carried by child actor Neel Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli. It amazes me that a child was able to make me believe he was truly interacting with these animals, despite the fact that he was acting with props and they were added in later.
From a purely technological standpoint, the film boasts some of the best effects to date. Light and fur move on characters such as Baloo (Bill Murray) and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) in realistic ways, and the animals themselves move and behave in believable manners. This aspect of the film is fully realized in the sequence with King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken, in which the monkeys sing and dance without breaking the immersion of the live-action aspect of the film.
While being a much smaller presence than the original with only two songs, the way the musical aspect of the film is introduced is clever as well. The music comes in to play about halfway through the film, where Baloo makes the remark, “Everybody’s got a song.” Next thing you know, the characters are singing the classic “Bear Necessities,” which has always been the film’s theme since the original in 1967.
However, the film wasn’t without its flaws. The most glaring of these are pacing issues in the film. For instance, the scene in which they introduce Kaa, the rock python voiced by Scarlett Johansson, feels tacked on. Although Johansson’s performance is spot on and her seductive and hypnotic voice work truly fits the character well, Kaa serves no real purpose besides introducing a plot element and explaining Mowgli’s backstory. Her scene is at most a minute and a half long, and ends by introducing Baloo. Afterwards the film swings back to its focus, and the characters seem to ignore or forget Mowgli’s encounter with Kaa, as she is never mentioned again.
Another problem I have is the use of all CG. Although I’ve praised it up until this point, CG is a tricky subject for films. While The Jungle Book does feature some of the best effects I’ve ever seen, the characters and setting are still clearly CG. As such, part of me worries that this film won’t be the timeless classic the original is, and rather a product of the time. I constantly found myself wishing that certain parts had been practical. However, the film truly is a beautiful and colorful work with a fully realized world.
All in all, director Jon Favreau and his team have done a magnificent job turning the beloved animated classic into a more mature and visually beautiful live-action/CG film. The creative direction and faithfulness to the source material are admirable, but the film also goes a long way in establishing itself as its own entity rather than just a straight adaptation. The Jungle Book is sure to entertain both young and old film goers with its unique setting and characters and immersive storyline.