This year audiences are set to witness arguably the most technologically advanced film to have ever been made. While this may be a bold statement, it is even stranger to think that this reference is in relation to a film titled The Jungle Book. The famous tale of The Jungle Book has been retold many times since its original inception in the renowned 1894 novel by Rudyard Kipling. Its inaugural cinematic adaptation in 1942 was a revelation at the time, however it's most recognised interpretation is undoubtedly the Walt Disney animated version of 1967. This animated musical comedy was an instant hit, much like the many Disney animated feature length films before it.
Walt Disney Pictures is very aware of their prior successes, and clearly knows the value of recognisable intellectual property. This has been overwhelmingly evidenced by the incredible success of their MARVEL and Star Wars movies. As a result Disney seems determined to maintain the trend of reinterpreting their classic animated features into the live action film format. Disney also seems to have established a mandate to use the latest technology to retell their stories for future generations.
The Jungle Book is Disney's third attempt in recent times following Maleficent in 2014 and Cinderella in 2015. The former received mixed reviews due to its departure from the source material. However, The Jungle Book pays homage to both the animated musical comedy and the Kipling novel to great effect, with the addition of a few surprises.
The Jungle Book follows the story of orphan boy Mowgli, who is left for dead in the jungle following the tragic death of his father. He receives help from the most unlikely of sources in the form of a panther named Bagheera. As a result of Bagheera's influence Mowgli is adopted by a pack of wolves until he is old enough fend for himself. Under wolfmother Raksha's protection he soon becomes part of the family. However, the Bengal tiger and sinister jungle king Shere Khan soon finds out about Mowgli's existence. Shere Khan's motives are crystal clear. He wants Mowgli dead, fuelled by his hate and mistrust of man.
Director Jon Favreau has clearly undertaken painstaking research to get the live action adaptation perfectly right. Inspiration has obviously been taken from the visual effects work used on Avatar and Life of Pi, with WETA being responsible for the vast majority of the computer generated VFX. The result is a technological marvel. Jon Favreau is no stranger to utilising the latest technological advancements in his films. He is also arguably responsible for launching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man in 2008. While his superior understanding of story and character has served him well in the past, it is remarkable that Disney hasn't signed him up indefinitely for future film projects. After his latest directorial effort, this will definitely be on Disney's agenda. The film is an amazing achievement.
Audiences need to understand that this movie was shot entirely on green screen sound stages in downtown Los Angeles. This is a fact that will completely go unnoticed while watching the film in the cinema. The landscapes are extremely hyper realistic, with specific detail on lighting, lens selection and realistic camera movements. Audiences will absolutely believe that they are in the jungle without a second guess. Much like Disney Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, the backgrounds look as though they were actually shot somewhere in the wilderness. In this case they are completely computer generated.
The visually stimulating experience doesn't end there. The VFX industry has come so far in recent years that filmmakers now have the ability to produce photo realistic animal animation. This technology has made this new adaption of The Jungle Book possible. The development of each animalistic character pays particular attention to the mannerisms and movements of each unique species, adding to the hyper realism. This is not a first for Disney, with artists studying various animal forms and movements since the preproduction of Bambi in 1942. However, fast forward to today and it is hard to believe that the animals in this version of The Jungle Book are not real.
The only physically real presence to feature in the movie is loveable character of Mowgli, played by debutant actor Neel Sethi. It has to be said that Sethi does fantastic work as the lonely yet overconfident orphan boy. This is remarkable for such a young actor, especially considering the vast majority of his work is opposite green screen. Special credit has to go to director Jon Favreau for being able to get the best out of his actors in this situation. To make Sethi's performance as realistic as possible Favreau and his team recruited puppeteers from the Jim Henson company to assist with Mowgli's character interactions. This allowed Favreau to be able to direct the animal puppeteers at the same time as directing Sethi. The final result on screen is simply marvellous, and the audience won't doubt for a second that the animals are not physically in the presence of Mowgli.
The Jungle Book's cast is simply stellar, featuring Sir Ben Kingley as the panther Bagheera, Lupito Nyong'o as the wolfmother Raksha, Scarlett Johansson as the python Kaa, Bill Murray as the sloth bear Baloo, Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan and Christopher Walken as the formidable ape King Louie. Scarlett Johansson's performance as Kaa can be creepy and frightening at times, which is a combination Johansson's eerie voice work in addition the remarkable visual effects that make the manipulative python come to life.
Idris Elba adds a sinister streak to the performance of Shere Khan unlike any we have seen before. His hateful motivations are also very well established from the beginning of the film. However, even though he plays the major antagonist, he also fulfils the task of providing social commentary on man's destructive role in nature which provides incredible legitimacy to his motivations. While Elba's voice is formidable, it does lack the level of brilliance provided by George Sanders in the original animated feature.
Sir Ben Kingley is brilliant as Bagheera, providing the much needed gravitas and wisdom that was necessary for the role. Lupito Nyong'o is also warm and wonderful in the role of Raksha, a role that was severely underutilised in the animated addition of The Jungle Book. Bill Murray is undeniably a revelation as the lovable yet lethargic bear Baloo. He is clearly the star performance in the film, providing a highly humourous presence that is most welcome and essential to the narrative drive.
Christopher Walken as King Louie is also a stand out performance. He is formidable, frightening and powerful, unlike the animated version where he essentially plays the musical comic relief. Walken's musical ability also shines through, but audiences will have to hang around for the end credits to witness this wondrous sequence.
Jon Favreau has put together an entertaining and insightful film exploring the concepts of social exclusion, relevance in society and the human race's role in nature. The ideas are highly relatable and the mythology is timeless. The plot does lack complexity, however this is more to do with the source material than the actual filmmakers ability to execute a stimulating narrative. Audiences should pay close attention to the opening credits of the film, which are done in the traditional animation style that made Disney movies famous. The end credits also incorporate some original footage from the 1967 version of The Jungle Book, which transitions into a series of animation that has to be witnessed to be believed.
Overall, Disney's live action remake of The Jungle Book is a triumphant delight. Jon Favreau and Disney have adapted what worked so well in the original animated feature, in addition to taking concepts further by incorporating more story beats from the Kipling novel. The animal animation is simply amazing and takes photo realism to another level. The landscapes are also completely immersive, incorporating many visual concepts from the original animated feature. Adults, families and kids everywhere are guaranteed to enjoy this visual spectacle, in addition to the wonderful performances provided by the remarkable cast.
While a live action version of Beauty and the Beast is currently in the works, it is a certainty that audiences will have a growing appetite for more photo realistic animal animation in the future. Don't be surprised to see Disney developing more live action editions of their animated movies that are of similar pedigree to The Jungle Book. The most likely candidates will surely include Disney's animated versions of Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Robin Hood and of course The Lion King. With the VFX technology getting better every year the possibilities are endless. In summary, The Jungle Book is a must see at your local cinema.
Brilliant review. I just went to see the film today. The CGI is magnificent - I would say more so with the trees than the animals. The animals look wonderful, but I knew they were CGI; with the trees however, they looked so incredibly real.
I thought all the voices were great except for Idris Elba - nothing against him, but he just did not sound like Shere Khan to me. Like you said, the voice of George Sanders is unbeatable.
It can't compare to the original film, but it is excellent none the less. I did have a couple of niggles such as the ending and the size of King Louie, but otherwise I really enjoyed it.