"The Jungle Book" Review

Lately, Disney seems to be rooting through its vault to find classics to remake into big-budget, live-action blockbusters. They stumbled early on with misfires like Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, but they finally recaptured that Disney magic with last year’s Cinderella. And with live-action adaptations of Pete’s Dragon, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, and Peter Pan mapped out as far as 2020, it looks like we’re going to be stuck with this trend for a very long time.

Which won’t be a bad thing if these upcoming projects turn out to be even half as good as The Jungle Book.

This movie rocks. It freaking rocks!

Director Jon Favreau, who brought his proficiently crowd-pleasing sensibilities to such films as Iron Man and Cowboys and Aliens, knocks it out of the park once again here. He simply gets it. He gets what goes into making an effective film: a simple story, well-drawn characters, visual pizazz, and most importantly, heart. The Jungle Book does something that few movies nowadays are able to do: inspire wonder in its audience.

The story concerns a young human boy, Mowgli (Neel Sethi, destined to be a big star), who is abandoned in the jungle and raised by wolves. When a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (a menacing Idris Elba) threatens his life, Mowgli is forced to leave the jungle with the help of stern panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley) and lazy but lovable bear Baloo (Bill Murray).

While it may sound familiar, this new version manages to pay loving tribute to both the Rudyard Kipling stories as well as the 1967 animated Disney film, while integrating certain elements from each in its own distinct narrative direction. However, like the other incarnations before it, this new version is quite episodic in its structure, with Mowgli wandering from one unrelated set piece to the next.

So while the story itself is pretty conventional fare, it’s how the story is told that is the crucial element, and it’s what Favreau and company get so right. The Jungle Book has it all. There is humor, most of it coming from Murray’s quippy asides. There are valuable morals about right and wrong, facing one’s fears, and the importance of family. And there is spectacle—from a hair-raising stampede to a trippy sequence involving the seductive snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), to an exciting and scary chase with the towering orangutan King Louie (the great Christopher Walken).

It cannot be understated how fantastic these sequences look. The visual effects featured here are pushing the boundaries of what can be done with visual effects. All one has to do is spend but a moment in the world of the film to be completely immersed in it. With state-of-the-art digital technology, viewers are transported to a jungle so tactile it’s easy to forget that it was shot on a soundstage with a green-screen backdrop. Here, they meet animals so lifelike it’s easy to forget that they were all rendered on someone’s computer. The illusion that these are real, flesh-and-blood animals is never broken. Not even when they break out into classic tunes like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”

There are many more remarkable things about The Jungle Book, but I recommend you go see the film to find out what they are for yourself. Bring the kids. See it on the biggest screen possible. And prepare to be taken on an exciting, imaginative journey.

Darn you, Disney. You’ve done it again.

Grade: A-