Jon Favreau (Chef, Swingers, Elf) and Disney have breathed new life into the animated classic The Jungle Book, which saw a young boy grow up alongside talking and singing animals. As he tries to find his footing in this world, so does Favreau, as this project is no doubt his biggest and greatest achievement. It’s a leap and a bound from anything else he’s done and the beauty he’s able to capture both with the visual effects and within the characters and their human story is truly terrific. This is exactly the film to see in 3D, as their technology and execution are seamless, but you should also see this film in IMAX, as it will take your breath away and then some.
As a young boy, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) lost his father to the wicked Tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) in an attack which left him alone in the woods. A Panther by the name of Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) stumbles upon the young man-cub and takes it upon himself to raise the boy with the help of Rashka (Lupita Nyong’o) and the wolves. As Mowgli grows older, Shere Kahan is out for his blood, and it’s up to Bagheera and an unlikely friend in the carefree bear Baloo (Bill Murray) to help keep Mowgli and the jungle safe.
As a fresh face in the world of film, Neel Sethi is a rare talented youth who mounts the weight of the real world on his shoulders in this film. You have no reason to believe the world around him is computer generated, but this young actor helped continue the immersion into this dense jungle filled with very realistic characters existing in animal form. Mowgli gets along well with the younger pups and animals he’s around, as the older animals usually treat him differently. Most animals treat him differently because he’s different, but he knows that he is good and can help them and that’s present throughout the entirety of the film.
As Mowgli’s guardian and the story’s narrator, Ben Kingsley lends his calming voice to this righteous and kindhearted Panther, who emotes so strongly through his eyes and actions. Kingsley’s sternness is balanced out by his softer side which sides well with Murray’s Baloo, who’s about as laid back as they come. Murray has another one of those legendary voices which you can pick up anywhere and amid the fast paced action and adventure, his Baloo unwinds things a bit and helps you enjoy your time in the beautiful jungle. Idris Elba really sinks his teeth into the character of Shere Khan, oozing with sinister pride anytime he toys with the lesser animals of the jungle. Like you evil cat toying with a mouse its caught, Elba has a hold on the characters and the audience and keeps his presence in the back of everyone’s minds.
Following in the footsteps left behind by James Cameron and the visual effects behemoth that is Avatar, Favreau and his team have given them a serious run for their money in terms of what they can create and how real the interactions look. An extensive amount of time and effort has gone into crafting these animals and how they walk, speak, interact, and operate within their geological location. The attention to detail is unreal, as the 3D enhances the life you feel from them as they’re even more in your face. From bite wounds to claw marks, stampedes to steady roaming, the jungle is a living and breathing character which demands your respect and will reward you with all this glorious film has to offer.
At the core of the film are two very important themes which revolve around finding a place where you belong and protecting nature and the natural order around us. Many of the animal’s fear Mowgli, not for what he is, but for what he will grow to be; a man. Man has brought fire to the jungle and with it comes destruction and extinction for certain animals who don’t know any other home. We see how careless human acts affect the animals and their homes, driving them further back or enveloping them in flames. All the while, the unassuming Mowgli has lived his whole life that he can remember in the jungle. He was literally raised by wolves and instilled with their beliefs. He doesn’t know any other home, yet people still tease him and talk down to him. When we see animals of all sorts uniting in the quest for peace and general prosperity, we see the humanity that exists within all of us and Favreau is at his best when he incorporates these human emotions we can’t fight.
Disney’s The Jungle Book is a testament to the technology that’s been sorely underused by so many before and the power of storytelling and values we have come to grow fond of. The characters we knew and loved haven’t been revamped, but we’re seeing them and their story in a new light and it’s a remarkable one at that. Rated PG, it’s a film the whole family can and should go see this weekend.
The Jungle Book Trailer