Based on the 1894 book written by Rudyard Kipling, the film “The Jungle Book” swung into theaters this past week. For those who are familiar with the animated Disney classic, this adaptation will prove to be a little different than the usual.
The film follows the same basic plot line as the movie we may all remember from our youth. A man-cub by the name of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) has lived all of his life in the jungle, raised by a pack of wolves and a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). During a drought that forces all of the animals to meet at the only water source around—the Peace Rock—Mowgli’s presence is discovered by the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Shere Khan, abhorrent of humans, makes it his mission to get rid of the man-cub how he sees fit: death. In order to save his life, Bagheeri, along with the help of Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), try to bring him to the man village. But after threats from Shere Khan, Mowgli isn’t sure if he can leave his friends behind.
Visually, “The Jungle Book” was a beautiful adventure. Though the film was almost entirely CGI, as it was all filmed at various sound stages in Los Angeles, the graphics were breathtaking. Not only was the jungle recreated in vivid color and detail, but also the animals were realistically captured. In fact, director Jon Favreau actually studied the behavior and movements of the real animals and made sure to keep the CGI as close as possible to reality. This comes through in every scene, from a horde of monkeys scaling the side of a cliff to the slinking shoulders of Shere Khan as he stalks around.
In addition to the visuals, the movie also had excellent character work. Idris Elba’s voice work made the perfect sinister and commanding Shere Khan come to life. Bill Murray encapsulated the very essence of the goofy, lumbering Baloo, making his character as lovable as they come. Scarlett Johansson’s light lulling lilt as Kaa the snake had me as hypnotized as Mowgli was. And Neel Sethi as Mowgli did a fantastic job considering his age and that he is the only human character in the whole film. The relationships Mowgli creates with each animal are so vivid that I was completely drawn in to each one of them, often finding myself wishing I, too, belonged to a cool wolf pack that had my back.
Though the movie does get quite a bit darker than it’s animated predecessor, it still maintains a nice sense of levity throughout. In one of my favorite scenes, Mowgli rides Baloo’s belly down a lazy stream as the two sing “Bear Necessities” together. Never have I wished more that I had a bear as a best friend and simultaneous flotation device. “I Wanna Be Like You,” another song from the animated version, also made an appearance in the film, sung by Christopher Walken’s gigantic and drawling King Louie.
Overall, this movie was a fantastic remake and an amazing foray into new film technology. If you feel like catching a movie anytime soon, “The Jungle Book” is easily the best option in theaters right now. Funny, emotional, and with beautiful scenes that will stick in your mind, it effectively marks a new era of CGI filmmaking for the years to come.