The Jungle Book

Posted: April 16, 2016 in Movie Reviews

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It’s 2016. Stunning computer generated imagery has been around since 1993’s Jurassic Park. Since that time, the film industry has produced a plethora of CGI-laden films; some have managed to push the limits of possibility, some have causd a fatigue for big budget blockbuster films among the general audience. There have been milestones in CGI in the decades since: Star War I: The Phantom Menace, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, etc. Now, through The Jungle Book,  we have the next milestone in the world of special effects.

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Summary: (No spoilers)

Since infancy, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has been reared by the law of the jungle and the wolf pack that have become his family. But when the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba—–Thor, Pacific Rim) demands the boy who will one day grow into a man, Mowgli’s trusted friends must aid him as he flees from the jungle to the protection of his own kind.

Also starring: Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, and Scarlett Johansson

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I went in wondering if we would get a film from the director of Iron Man or Cowboys and Aliens. Very thankfully, we got the former. The Jungle Book  is for certain among the top 10 most beloved Disney animated classics, and it would have been an absolute shame for this to have gone the same way as Maleficent. Ultimately, it ended up being the best live-action adaptation Disney has produced yet.

The 1967 classic bears all the signature elements of a great Disney film: loveable characters, an enticing environment, a heartwarming story, and a list of Sherman Brothers songs that leave you humming for days. What this iteration of The Jungle Book does is beautifully and almost flawlessly blends the classic themes and tone with a modern, grittier story. All of the characters you know and love are present (even if one or two are in it less than we’d prefer).

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At its core, the story remains the same. But the opportunity is taken to embellish the story, partially with material from Rudyard Kipling’s book. The result is a film that feels both nostalgic and completely fresh. From its opening title, certain scenes and thematic elements are utilized from the animated film. Even a couple of the songs, modified and revitalized, make their way into the film (with a brand new bit written by Richard Sherman).

Visually, this film is among the greatest ever. The staggering fact is that nothing you see, with the exception of Mowgli, is real. Everything, everything, is created inside of a computer. While so many films suffer from an over-saturation of special effects, The Jungle Book is rescued by the fact that it all looks stunning. From the individual blades of grass to the water droplets on the animals’ fur, everything you see is absolutely incredible. Does it rival even Avatar? Yes; though, granted, Avatar did create an entirely new world filled with breathtaking creatures and environments. But as for being immersed in an environment, The Jungle Book does it best. Never once do you question the look of an animal or the flow of a river.

But where the heart of this film truly lies is with the cast. Bill Murray may not seem like an entirely appropriate choice for the larger-than-life bear, but he pulls it off astoundingly, instilling an appropriate amount of humor and levity. Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera provides a deepness of tone and authority to a character who must look out for Mowgli’s safety. As much as Christopher Walken seems like the most unlikely actor who could bring King Louie to life, Walken is fantastic in the role. While he seems like a guy to do business with, he’s perhaps the biggest double-crosser and con artist in the jungle. Newcomer Neel Sethi handles himself with aplomb, especially considering that his acting environment consisted of 100% green screen, an environment that seasoned actors have crumbled in. He instills all the youthful charm and charismatic nature of the animated Mowgli.

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While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact standout, it’s Shere Khan who should be considered for one of the best villains of the year. Frightening, collected, and subtle, the villain that evokes the most terror is usually the one that holds back but could strike at any moment. Idris Elba’s voice lends itself perfectly to a villain that could have easily become bland and stereotypical had it not been for the right type of motivation that compels him.

In a nutshell:

While I’ve stated emphatically that a live-action iteration of The Lion King is impossible, this film has not only changed my mind, but has made me genuinely ecstatic at the thought of it. Beautifully adapted, ideally cast, and at times heart-warmingly pleasant, The Jungle Book is a visual feast and contains a lively musical score to match. It perfectly mixes somber tones with the levity of the animated original, and is sheer proof that live-action adaptations of the Disney classics can truly be great.

9 stars

 

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