The Jungle Book is the most recent adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel with the same name after several versions, the most famous of which is the animated feature by Disney in 1967. The film is also a disney production, but not animated. It’s a live feature film that tells the story of Mowgli, the man cub as described by other animals, who is raised in the jungle within a wolf pack and under the protection of “Bagheera”, the black panther . One day, Mowgli is discovered by an evil tiger named “Shere Khan”, who has a huge grudge against humans, and he declares his intentions loud and clear; Mowgli must die. The events of the film tell the adventures of Mowgli in his attempts to escape from Shere Khan and reach the man’s village, where he is believed to become safe by Bagheera and “Akela” the alpha wolf in the pack.
Along with “Deadpool”, “The Jungle Book” is certainly the most fun I had at the movies so far in 2016. The film’s primary audience are children, in the sense of being suitable for all members of the family, and it is common for such movies to be enjoyed by grown ups .. But this time it is a bit different. This time I enjoyed the film without having to look down at it or act like an observer to how my children are engaged with it. This time I was invested in all chapters and I connected with the events on all levels. The drama, the comedy, the suspense, they were all real and effective.
“The Jungle Book” is nearly perfect on all aspects, but the most important characteristics I have for it are: courageous, realistic and original. Not a single decision was made to dodge challenges, and yet after mastering all the elements of visual effects and characters animation, I cannot say that any achievement was abused or even repeated.
In Zootopia, the cast selection process ensured that no actor has to work so much on his voice to suit the character he’s playing, the match was made in the selection itself. I cannot say that the same principle was followed here, in “The Jungle Book” I could sense how several cast members really worked on the way they sound to find some middle ground between their own voice , the nature of the animals and the nature of the character they’re playing. The only exception to this comparison is Idris Elba, whom I praised as the best voice performance in Zootopia since he managed to strike the balance between the 3 elements in his portrayal. In “The Jungle Book”, Elba steps into further dimensions.
Shere Khan is by far the best villain in 2016. He has a motive and he has real powers that make him superior to any confrontation. He’s so powerful that he knows nobody can stop him. He knows what he wants and he makes sure that everybody knows it too. However, he’s smart enough to try and lobby for his agenda. He doesn’t really have a plan with phases, he can go ahead and explain his logic for the lack of a better thing to do, but he’s not really waiting for a trigger to go after Mowgli. He doesn’t have an evil side, he’s just pure, intelligent, evil. He’s magnificent.
The other portrayal that stands out is Bill Murray’s in the character of “Baloo” the lazy, conning bear. Murray is among the best actors who can deliver subtle jokes with indifferent facial expressions. Baloo proves that the veteran comedian can do the same with his voice. Neel Sethi, the 12 years old newcomer, plays “Mowgli” with the challenge of being the only real character in the middle of CGI creations. It’s important to remember that to appreciate his performance which I believe was rather adorable than wild. When looking at “Mowgli”, the first character that comes to mind in recent years is “Spot” from “The Good Dinosaur”. The key difference is that Spot’s loneliness was well reflected his hostility, while Mowgli had the privilege of being raised with love and care. It is only the wild nature of that loving environment that was missing in Sethi’s performance.
The coherence of Justin Marks’ script is astonishing. Our adventure spans across different phases with different characters in different places. However the build up of the key dramatic threads expands with extreme clarity across all the phases. The rivalry between Mowgli and Shere Khan, Mowgli grasping the value of teamwork and dedication to the pack, and Mowgli understanding that he’s of a different specie with strong and different powers. Those are the threads that develop in every stage, with a lot of small details that come together perfectly in the final showdown.
“The Jungle Book” is bit of a turnoff from a technical description point of view. It is one of those “chroma” movies, filmed entirely in front of a green screen and within the walls of a studio. It is actually a bit more than that. It’s probably the most realistic work I’ve ever seen with CGI characters design and animation. If the inspiration comes from such movies as “Life of Pi” and the recent adaptation of “Planet of the Apes”, then “The Jungle Book” is the advanced level.
With all of those excellent elements into play, praise is due to the way they’re all orchestrated by the true master of his craft “Jon Favreau”. After his work on the Ironman movies, followed by “Chef” and now “The Jungle Book”, I believe it’s about time we start anticipating Favreau’s movies, the same way we anticipate the work of the heavyweights.
“The Jungle Book” is a refreshing cinematic experience in the rather dull world of CGI productions. It’s a loyal adaptation of a familiar story, but the unique creative vision and dramatic philosophy makes it necessary to label it “unparalleled”.