I hate to start with a cliché but here it goes: The Jungle Book is why we go to the movies. It’s a reminder of the power of movies and all of the magic they have to offer.
Director Jon Favreau has crafted a deeply immersive live-action telling of the classic story of Mowgli the man-cub, which was the foundation of the 1967 Disney film of the same name. Based off of the story by Rudyard Kipling, Favreau brings us deep into the jungle as we follow Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and his animal family and friends.
The Jungle Book hits the ground running, literally, as Mowgli is racing through the jungle. Is he in danger? Who is he running from? He is just practicing with his panther friend, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), in case he should ever really need to flee quickly. Bagheera has been by Mowgli’s side since he was a baby and found abandoned in the jungle. Bagheera brought him to a family of wolves, led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), who treat Mowgli as one of their own.
The presence of the man-cub in the jungle is not accepted by all. A tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) doesn’t trust the man-cub because he doesn’t trust any man. He pledges to find and kill Mowgli and refuses to let anyone get in his way.
Bagheera and Akela agree it’s time for Mowgli to go back to the village and be with his own kind. Raksha has a harder time letting go of her son but it’s for his own good. Before Mowgli goes, he meets Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), who saves him from the hypnotizing powers of a snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).
Kids will enjoy The Jungle Book but some of it may be too dark for the younger members of the family. There is genuine tension and peril throughout. Shere Khan’s mere presence is often frightening enough, thanks to Elba’s terrific voice work. Favreau plays with a much darker tone here but having just watched the animated The Jungle Book, I was reminded it’s a dark film. Shere Khan has the same plans for Mowgli in the original but it was packaged in a more bouncy, sing-song tone. (We do get some of the beloved songs here, including “Bare Necessities” and King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You”).
It’s a rare thing to see a film in 3D that’s worth the extra money and uses the technology well. The Jungle Book transcends the cash-grabbing gimmick of 3D. The entire film is so gorgeous and seeing the movie in 3D makes us feel like we are walking alongside Mowgli in the jungle. This is a movie that should be seen on the biggest screen available to you.
The voice cast is absolutely perfect. From Murray and Kingsley, to brief appearances by Johansson and Christopher Walken as King Louie, everyone fits their role flawlessly. After you see this film, go back and watch the animated version and you can just see Favreau and his team really studied those characters and found the right actors to play them today.
Live-action remakes of Disney films have become quite the trend in Hollywood but they have yet to be done this well. Let’s hope March 2017 brings us another one this good when Beauty and the Beast is released.
8 out of 10