“The Jungle Book” is a journey that can’t be missed
Disney’s “The Jungle Book” is probably the best adventure film so far this year. Other great films this year have had adventurous tones and moods (Disney’s very own “Zootopia” for one) but “The Jungle Book” embodies an adventure as we imagine it in the word’s most basic term. It also happens to be one of the biggest surprises of the year.
This film is a remake (or reimagining, whatever you wish to call it) of the animated classic of the same name from the sixties. It stars excellent newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, a man-cub who has been raised in the jungle by wolves, but has to be sent away when the evil tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) comes onto the scene. On Mowgli’s adventure, he encounters many bizarre and beautiful creatures, the lovable bear, Baloo (Bill Murray), the strict panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), and the hulking ape King Louie (Christopher Walken).
But who am I kidding? If you’ve seen the original cartoon as much as I have, you already know what happens. Even if you haven’t seen the classic already, you can still enjoy this new version of “The Jungle Book,” a film that prides itself on visual storytelling, and deservedly so. The entire film is made by computer-generated effects, save for Mowgli. This is an ambitious move, and who would’ve thought that the first film to try it out would be a remake of “The Jungle Book.” I too was skeptical when going to see this movie. The idea of an all-CGI remake of the Disney film seemed dead on arrival.
Well, worry not. “The Jungle Book” is an experience to be witnessed, a must-see. The direction is adventurous. Jon Favreau puts his typical fast pacing on this sprawling journey, which goes from one thing to the next. Mowgli is playing with some wolf cubs. Bam! Shere Khan shows up. Bam! Mowgli runs into Baloo. Bam! He is captured by monkeys. The film is concerned about its pacing, but even more about developing characters and events. Almost every element of the story gets the attention it deserves.
The voicework is also stellar. This film was perfectly cast. Bill Murray brings his dry, relaxed style to Baloo. Kingsley has this natural commanding tone that made him perfect for Bagheera. Elba is genuinely menacing as Shere Khan. You feel his threatening presence while watching his scenes. But above all of those, surprisingly, Walken is the standout. He expertly channels Marlon Brando from “Apocalypse Now,” making his character mysterious. His scenes are the best in the film by far.
It is also unprecedented that this film does such a great job of world-building. The jungle is an expansive place, filled with all different kinds of fantastic creatures. We get a sense that there is so much more in this world than what is shown in this film. While this establishment of a world has its price (the movie sometimes dives too deep into exposition, going to lengths to practically waste an entire character) it sets up an enchanting world for the recently announced sequels.
I can pretty much promise you that “The Jungle Book” is unlike any other film you’ve ever seen before, at least in its means of storytelling. It’s story is familiar, but why complain? Favreau obviously was looking to create an experience that would shock viewers. And with all certainty, you cannot deny him that accomplishment.
Final Grade: A-