It’s probably been fifteen years since I last saw the 1967 animated Disney film, and in full disclosure it was never one of my favorites.
When news came around that it was being adapted in a live action format, akin to 2015’s Cinderella and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, I wasn’t exactly jumping at the bit. But then the trailers started to pour in, and information about the production made it to my ears.
Despite my previous apathy, I would not be able to stay away.
I’m a sucker for innovation- for film technologies that go above and beyond what we’ve previously seen. Merida’s hair in Brave, the the astounding practical effects of Mad Max : Fury Road. There are many films that pique my interest not for the subject matter, but for how they present it. Obviously a good story is key to overall enjoyment, but sometimes it takes a crazy camera trick to get me through the door. (Though it doesn’t always pay off. The beautiful camera work and bear-mauling CGI was not enough for me to really like The Revenant, for example).
The Jungle Book lured me in with the premise of a live action jungle that used no live animals, and it kept me in my seat thanks to a fun, fast moving story, some familiar haunts, and that unwavering awe at what modern effects can do.
If you have seen the 1967 film, this movie follows the same plotline- that of a man-cub trying to find his place in the animal world. And that world feels so incredibly alive. Favreau and crew filmed nearly the entire project on green-screened sound stages with nary a real-live animal in sight. But on screen every creature, from elephant to tiger to pangolin, looks remarkably lifelike. Better still, the anthropomorphism, including gestures and mouth movements, look natural rather than jarringly wrong and out of place like they easily could have been.
Story wise the tale is an old hat, but acting by newcomer Neel Sethi, and voiceovers by the likes of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, and Ben Kingsley, give real emotion to the events. You witness heartbreak, fear, humor, love, and even a few musical numbers… though those were a tad hit or miss. “The Bear Necessities,” a nostalgic staple of the 1960s adaptation, appears again within a believable context. “I Wan’na Be Like You,” on the other hand, doesn’t quite fit with the more serious and realistic tone that this film takes. While I’m heard others praise the inclusion of those songs, I felt that the number by Christopher Walken’s King Louie took me out of the moment, and was the one major misstep.
I saw The Jungle Book in 3D, which is a format I often skip out on since it often costs far more and adds very little to the experience. In this instance I had no other option, but was actually very pleased with the results. The use of CGI allowed the film to be created in 3D from the get go, and the visuals feel very natural rather than converted over in post-production.
The Jungle Book exceeded my expectations, and was a beautifully made, fun, and family-friendly adaptation that should delight both fans of the original Disney outing and new ones as well. Unsurprisingly it was just green-lit for a sequel, and I am eager to see where this computer created jungle can take us next.