Some stories bear retelling, and The Jungle Book is one of those stories. Disney’s latest CGI feast, directed by Jon Favreau, is a worthwhile remake of what fans remember as the quintessential The Jungle Book, the animated version from 1967. The performance of a real boy, and the realistic-looking animals, make for more of a moving story.
The Jungle Book, based on the books by Rudyard Kipling, tells the story of a young boy who is raised by wolves. He’s found in the jungle as a baby, and brought to the wolves by a black panther, named Bagheera. But as he grows, he becomes the target of Shere Khan, a deadly tiger. Mowgli decides to go back to the man village to protect his animal friends.
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After seeing The Jungle Book, I’m not surprised that it’s killing at the box office, weekend after weekend. It’s especially rare, in today’s market, for a movie to continue to remain in the #1 spot after its opening weekend. The Jungle Book has been #1 for three weekends in a row. (I expect Captain America: Civil War will knock it out this weekend when it bows. Who remains at #1 after that will be an interesting contest to watch.)
Newcomer Neel Sethi, as Mowgli, is the only human in the entire film. (I don’t count the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him scene with his father.) He acquits himself admirably, for someone with so much of the movie resting on his small shoulders. He is innocent, yet cunning, brave, and vulnerable. He also does a stupendous job of acting with characters who were, no doubt, nothing but green-screen models during filming. Anthony Lane, of The New Yorker, says that The Jungle Book is “hypercontrolled” to the point that there’s no “art.” I disagree. It’s so life-like that you’re drawn deeper into the story (into the jungle), and care even more for Mowgli and his friends, than if it had been some kind of haphazard, mish-mash of film techniques. Of course it had to be hypercontrolled; how else would it have turned out so beautifully?
Speaking of green screens, the CGI animation is breathtaking. In fact, it’s easy to forget you’re watching animals and landscape that don’t really exist. Well, until the animals talk, anyway. The Jungle Book is so gorgeous, that I’m grateful no one attempted this kind of remake in years past, when the technology would have been too primitive to make it look so real, so lush.
The performances of Ben Kingsley, as Bagheera; Bill Murray as Baloo; Idris Elba as Shere Khan; Lupita Nyong’o, as mother wolf Raksha; Christopher Walken, as King Louie; and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa were wonderful. The actors weren’t asked to put on gimmicky animal voices. Their dialogue was very natural to their own personalities, which gave each character a truly unique voice, in terms of quality and speech patterns. Casting these actors in these parts was genius.
While I was watching it, I thought, Jon Favreau was the perfect director to helm The Jungle Book. His experience over the years with special effects, like in Jumanji and Iron Man, served him well in this effects-heavy movie. The effects, in fact, don’t take over the movie, like in so many blockbuster films. The effects serve the story, which remains most important. Michael Phillips, of the Chicago Tribune, says, “Favreau’s fundamental decency and relatively light touch serve him well. He has a knack for straight-ahead pacing and for tightening the screws (the movie is 81 percent life-and-death peril and 19 percent comic relief) without being maniacal about it.” I couldn’t agree more.
Normally, I don’t like remakes of classic movies. The Jungle Book is so wonderful, however, that I’m looking forward to seeing what Disney does with its next live-action remakes: Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast and Cruella de Ville (101 Dalmations).