Disney’s “The Jungle Book” may go down as one of the greatest visual and technical marvels in cinematic history. Never before has a film been so eloquently and cohesively presented to the audience. The only film that comes close to the visual spectacle is “Avatar” and even that film, for all of its visual greatness, cannot hold a candle to “The Jungle Book.” It is a complete film from beginning to end.
This 2016 film, directed by Jon Favreau, recreates the magic and wonder of its 1967 animated counterpart, all the while telling a story that parents, children and adults of all ages can enjoy and relate to. The film tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy raised in the jungle by wolves and a black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley)
The existence of Mowgli is an affront to Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a Bengal tiger who serves as the villain for this story. Shere Khan seeks to harm Mowgli, so it is up to Bagheera to return Mowgli to the world of man. Along the way, Mowgli meets the ever-blithe bear, Baloo. What follows is a story about acceptance, bravery and maturity.
One of the most amazing feats of this film is its visual effects. The entire film was shot in a sound stage in Los Angeles which means nearly every element of the film was computer generated. For most films, this would result in a weakness, but “The Jungle Book” uses visual effects to create truly captivating environments.
Throughout most of the film, I found myself looking at set pieces and wondering how it was they created such a visual spectacle. The grass in the foreground looked as realistic as the lush forestry draped behind it. The motion and facial capture for the characters was absolutely stunning. Every emotion was conveyed through the actors’ facial movements.
What is truly amazing is that Jon Favreau was able to present a story that doesn’t rely on words. This film is emotionally driven, and at the center of the narrative is the only character played by an actor who was actually on set, Neel Sethi’s Mowgli. This film lives and dies by Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli and luckily for Disney and the audience, Sethi gives a brilliant performance.
You forget he is standing in a room of nothing, convincing the audience he’s thriving in the middle of a jungle and interacting with wolves, bears and lions. I’ve seen very experienced actors give bad performances while working with motion capture, and it is honestly inconceivable that this young actor was able to make it look so natural. That said, the proof is in the performance, and Favreau deserves high praise for his direction.
Aside from Sethi, the voice acting in this movie was absolutely exceptional. Standout performances go to Christopher Walken, Bill Murray and Idris Elba. Murray’s Baloo was warm, funny and at times irreverent. His performance felt more like the Murray of old, providing off-the-cuff commentary that keeps the audience beaming with delight.
Christopher Walken plays King Louie, an immensely oversized orangutan who provides a complex performance. He provides even more humor to a film that is bursting with levity while also presenting a hint of darkness as well. For those really avid fans of Walken, the film treats eagle-eyed viewers with an admittedly hilarious Easter egg upon the introduction of King Louie.
The real marquee performance has to go to Elba as Shere Khan, whose eerie and powerful voice was complimented well by his predatory nature. Every moment that Shere Khan was on screen was a moment that had the audience watching in slight fear. His character was commanding and vicious while his tactics in his pursuit of Mowgli were downright merciless.
His character seemed to evoke the personality of another well-known Disney villain by the name of Scar from “The Lion King.” There was even a scene in the film involving Shere Khan that was eerily similar to the stampede scene from the aforementioned film. All points of Shere Khan’s character worked to demonstrate to the audience that he was a beast not to be trifled with.
This leads me into an interesting takeaway from this film: it was much darker and more violent than I thought it was going to be. It is listed as PG, but I have honestly seen tamer films get slapped with a PG-13 rating. This may have more to do with the internal politics of the Motion Picture Association of America than with the film itself, but it may be worth regarding when taking children to see the film.
That said, “The Jungle Book” isn’t grotesquely violent. When I watched the film, the theater was packed full of small children. I didn’t hear many of them have overwhelmingly negative reactions to the violence. The film isn’t super violent, just more so than I thought it would be. That makes it a plus in my opinion, as it gives the older audience something to hold on to as they’re watching the film.
The only negative criticism I have of the film is that its musical score was quite generic. I was hoping that a film as ambitious as “The Jungle Book” would have a score that was the same. The score wasn’t bad, but I felt myself realizing exactly what films the score was probably inspired by.
That said, it was still a very fantastic experience, from the visuals to the sound design to the voice acting in between. “The Jungle Book” is a film that people from all walks can enjoy, and I believe it will be seen as one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest technical masterpieces for a few years to come.
I give “The Jungle Book” a 9.25 out of 10.