Disney’s The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau opens in theaters this weekend. Masterfully shot in a warehouse in Los Angeles with a green screen, this is a gorgeous film. The CGI is flawless, the rainforest is dazzling and colorful, and the animals looks as if they have been ripped from the pages of a National Geographic Magazine.
One of the biggest strengths of this film is that it doesn’t waste a ton of time on a backstory that is extremely familiar. Most are already aware that The Jungle Book is based on an 1894 book written by Rudyard Kipling. A boy known as Mowgli (Neel Sethi) roams the jungle with Bagheera (a black panther Ben Kingsley) and a pack of wolves. Shere Khan (a sinister/vicious looking tiger voiced by Idris Elba) has made it his life’s mission to ensure that Mowgli’s (nicknamed man-cub) life expectancy is an extremely short one. While fleeing an attempt on his life by Shere Khan, Mowgli ends up in the care of a very chilled out, singing bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and the two form an immediate bond.
The Jungle Book is a perfect of example of what great casting can do for a film. Each actor portrays their animal counterpart perfectly. Raksha (Mowgli’s Wolf Mother) is beautifully portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o. Christopher Walken provides comedic relief as he portrays King Louie like a 1930’s mob boss. Each animal in the film comes across as remarkably human thanks in large part to the groundbreaking motion-capture technology used in the movie.
The unpredictability of Shere Kahn was incredibly appealing. This gave him a new dimension of evil that many Disney villains don’t have. An example of this was when he showed up to comfort Raksha’s wolf cubs in the middle of the night. This an extremely calm and terrifying moment at the same time because it’s something no one saw coming. Who knew Shere Kahn had that side to him? He uses this moment to not only gain the trust of the naïve cubs but to deliver a threatening message Raksha directly. One of my few regrets in this film is that we didn’t see any more instances of the layer of evil in the movie. Why? If we had a few more instances such as this one, Shere Kahn would have been regarded as one of the most memorable villains in Disney history.
If anyone is worried about The Jungle Book just looking great but severely lacking in substance, let me assure that this film certainly has substance. Not only is Favreau’s film visually pleasing his added mythology to the rain forest and it’s creatures creates the appropriate amount of reverence for the film’s surroundings and it’s inhabitants. My only wish is that we could have spent just a little more time in the rainforest itself. It seemed as if the film was always moving and moving and didn’t take a second just to appreciate the sheer splendor of their home.
Not only does Jon Favreau deserve credit but so does Justin Marks as well. Justin Marks, who’s claim to fame until recently was being the man responsible for writing the screenplay to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (man’s got to work I guess), developed a very smart and entertaining script for The Jungle Book. The task of creating a fresh take on a story that’s been around for well over 100 years and do it in a way that seems at least somewhat plausible and entertaining but Marks does this. Anyone who is going into this film expecting to be entertained in the same ways that you were when you were watching the cartoon version of this movie is missing the point. The Jungle Book isn’t a film that’s just for children, it’s a movie the whole family can enjoy. This is a film for the multiple generations that grew up with the cartoon (1967) and considered it a classic. We are just fortunate that almost 50 years later, we have a brand new classic that we can now treasure.