It’s been ages since I saw the cartoon version of The Jungle Book. I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on this remake idea when it was first announced, despite the amazing voice cast. But I love when films I wasn’t even anticipating end up being such a pleasant surprise, and The Jungle Book did exactly that.
There’s always something intriguing about unlikely friendships, especially amongst humans and animals, so there’s definitely a big market for such genre movies. But seeing them in an animated format and live action automatically gives the story a different feel. A fellow blogger asked me if she could bring her 4-year-old niece to it and my first instinct is that some of the darker scenes might be too scary for her. So yes, it’s still family entertainment, but it certainly has a big appeal to adults as well.
The fact that I don’t much remember the original story perhaps made me enjoy the movie more. Yet for the most part I think this remake stays true to Rudyard Kipling‘s written text. We’re first introduced to the man-cub Mowgli in an exhilarating chase through the jungle that immediately showcased the movie’s spectacular 3D visual prowess. I was immediately transported to the jungle as Mowgli is on the run. It turns out to be a training sequence as he’s being mentored by Bagheera the panther to be more like his wolf brothers he’s raised with. It also didn’t take long for the movie to introduce the villain, the tiger Shere Khan, who looks and sounds menacing, thanks to the deep & mesmerizing voice of Idris Elba.
Neel Sethi, a 12-year-old kid of Indian descent who lives in NYC is perfectly cast as Mowgli. He may not have the acting experience for some of the dramatic scenes, but still convincing in the role and made me feel for his character. Besides, he’s surrounded by top-notch voice cast, some are acting legends like Ben Kingsley who provided the voice of Bagheera. But the scene stealer is Baloo, voiced by the inimitable Bill Murray. As soon as Baloo enters the picture, the movie’s entertainment quotient goes up a few notches. I love how he cajoled Mowgli to get his supply of honey and convinces him to stay in the jungle (instead of going to the man village) after discovering the kid’s resourceful-ness. It’s certainly one of the most fun pairing of human/animal since Hiccup and Toothless in the animated feature How To Train Your Dragon.
Scarlett Johansson‘s perfectly cast as the seductive snake Kaa. It’s a brief scene but a pretty memorable one. Christopher Walken, whose distinct speaking voice is endlessly entertaining, is fun to watch as the 10-foot-tall Gigantopithecus aptly-named King Louie. So instead of an orangutan, we’ve got this gigantic ape whose face is made to resemble Walken a bit and he got to sing a bit as well. The scenes with King Louie in his *temple* is one of the most action-packed in the film, but there are no shortage of action in this movie. Which takes me to the phenomenal visuals. From the opening sequence down to the fiery finale between Mowgli and Shere Khan, this film surely sets the bar high for live-action CGI movies. I think the last time I was truly in awe by a film’s 3D visuals was Avatar back in 2009. The way the animals look so realistic, and the excruciating details of the forest Mowgli lives in is breathtaking to behold. It’s an immersive experience as it felt as if you could smell and touch the lush trees in the jungle!
But it’s also nice that the movie isn’t just all style-over-substance. It’s a testament to how wonderful the original story is, but director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks made the classic tale come alive again and feels new. Even the musical numbers were fun and not at all distracting or annoying, which is another pleasant surprise. I find Mowgli’s journey quite moving and I really do love all the characters. Favreau is definitely a force to be reckoned with, which seems relatively under the radar compared to say, Zack Snyder, but he churns in good work far more consistently. The first Iron Man was utterly entertaining and Elf is practically a Christmas classic. But even his smaller fare like Chef (in which he starred in) is an indie gem.
The Jungle Book is another huge hit for Disney. It’s nice that a behemoth movie (with $175 mil budget) is also massively entertaining, so I think its success is well-deserved. I don’t even mind seeing this again in IMAX as I much prefer seeing it in a larger screen with great sound than in 3D. Pure escapism stuff that Disney’s known for and the colossal studio delivered once again.