Before I start this review of The Jungle Book, I’d like to throw in a disclaimer: I would love to tell you that this film is as good or better than the original animated feature, but I can’t… because I have no idea if I’ve ever seen it. It is possible that I watched it when I was younger, and I vaguely remember bits and pieces, but nowhere near enough to compare the two.
I’m far more familiar with Disney’s TailSpin than I am The Jungle Book, to be honest.
So, having not read the original stories nor remembering the 1967 animated film I get to be in the unique position where I can judge the film on it’s own merits alone — and merits it has.
The Jungle Book follows Mowgli played delightfully by child actor Neel Sethi as he is forced to escape the jungle while pursued by the man-eating tiger Shere Khan voiced by Idris Elba. Along the way he must navigate friend and foe voiced by an impressive cast which includes Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken.
But it is Bill Murray as the loveable bear Baloo that really steals the show. One part loveable oaf with a healthy appreciation of honey, one part con-man (as in how he convinces Mowgli to get the honey), and one part heart of gold. Anytime you put Murray in a film, you risk him being the best part of the movie, and that’s saying something with this damn fine cast.
As wonderful as the cast is, The Jungle Book is also visually stunning. I still have a hard time believing it was shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles, as the jungle was beautifully rendered. The animals, while nearly flawlessly animated, still fell into the uncanny valley, but I have to wonder if that has more to do with the fact that we’re watching them speak, rather than anything the artists have done. This may be billed as a live-action film, but most of it is actually animated… and the animated elements are hard to differentiate from the live action. The VFX are by Digital Domain, WETA and others.
Weirdly enough, early on in the film while watching these lush computer generated images of a jungle, I wondered what James Cameron had in store for us with his Avatar sequels. Much of Pandora seemed very CG back in 2009, so if The Jungle Book is what director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) can pull off today, then Avatar 2 is going to be spectacular.
That thought was fleeting ,because while The Jungle Book is a technical marvel to watch, it also has something many films lack these days: Heart. You care about the characters, fear for Mowgli, and are engrossed in the story. No matter the achievements in computer imagery, Favreau keeps his eye on telling a heartfelt story first and foremost.
Here’s The Jungle Book trailer: