Review: The Jungle Book
One could make a case that Jon Favreau’s directorial ouvre has had the same erratic success trajectory as that of Disney’s live action reworkings of their animated classics. For Favreau, following the well received Made, holiday favorite Elf, then the smash hit Iron Man, came the highly publicized back-to-back disappointments of Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens. He was perhaps unjustly blamed for the failures of both, which spurned him to helm the thinly veiled personal story of Chef. It was a delightful family film and, once again for the multi hyphenate, a financial and critical success. For Disney live action re-imaginings, the financially well received 101 Dalmatians was followed by the (if not critically then financial) smash Alice in Wonderland, which was closely trailed by the disastrous The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It was another four years before the mouse house rebounded with the spellbinding feminist reworkings of Maleficent and Cinderella. Now Favreau has teamed with Disney to bring to cinemas the live action The Jungle Book and the results are, in a word, magical. It cements Favreau’s status as one of the best working family film directors and continues the legacy of enchanting live action Disney remakes the entire family can be entertained by.
That being said, Favreau’s The Jungle Book is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in theaters. Masterfully utilizing CGI and visual effects technology, everything you see onscreen, save for newcomer Neel Sethi playing “man-cub” Mowgli, is computer generated. All of (original stories author) Rudyard Kipling’s beloved characters that you vividly recall from the 1967 Disney animated classic are all sharply recreated here and amazingly life-like in their recreation. From the vegetation blooming in the labyrinthine jungle, to the way Bagheera the Panther (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley) thirstily guzzles water, to each fibre of hair on each of the animals, the effects look and sound jaw-droppingly real.
Additionally, the casting for the voice work is inspired and perfectly attuned to each of the actors’ strengths. For example, who but Scarlett Johansson could voice the gender swapped python Kaa as a sensual seductress or Bill Murray as Baloo, the lovable, self-deprecating layabout bear? (One could easily write a think piece about why the female characters are either nurturers or temptresses, but we’ll leave that for another day). Nostalgic fans of the original Disney cartoon will be delighted when big band, jazzy versions of The Bare Necessities, I Wanna Be Like You, and Trust in Me are warbled (alas Johansson’s siren song is relegated to being played over the closing credits, but it’s well worth staying in your seat for).
Trust in us when we say that The Jungle Book is a cinematic masterpiece.