Continuing a trend of Disney’s recent live-action remakes of their classic movies, including Alice in Wonderland in 2010 and Cinderella in 2015, The Jungle Book—originally released in 1967—is hyper real, technology-laden, exhilarating, and truly beautiful.
I had a lot of fun guessing the actors behind the CGI animals—Idris Elba (Shere Khan, the evil tiger), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa, the mesmerizing snake), Bill Murray (satisfyingly, Baloo, the bear), Christopher Walken (King Louie, the humongous and fire-obsessed orangutan king), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera, the loving and strict panther), and Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha, Mowgli’s mother wolf).
That’s a pretty incredible cast to star in any movie with, particularly your first major film. But Neel Sethi pulled it off with ease and is incredible as Mowgli. Not to mention the fact that none of those actors were actually there next to him on set, but back in a voice studio. The 12-year-old actor was one of thousands chosen by casting directors. He’s adorable, fierce, emotive, and naïve all at the same time.
All of the animals live under the “Law of the Jungle.” During a bad drought, when access to water takes precedence over access to prey, a peace treaty is called across the food chain. But there are two threats to the jungle way of life that make the animals break their order: mankind (unless the man is young like Mowgli, in which case they are referred to as a “man cub''), and the Red Flower—fire, which can destroy any and all with a fury and no cure.
Shere Khan, who terrorizes the jungle, does so partially because of his interactions with both enemies—a man sleeping in the jungle for a night with his young child burned him and blinded him in one eye, before Shere pounced and killed him. When he first meets Mowgli and his wolf family some 12 years later, he quickly breaks into a fury and seeks his revenge.
Mowgli quickly decides it’s time for him to go back to the human village and leave the jungle, a quest that Bagheera assists him with, before getting separated. Mowgli must then traverse the jungle alone, meeting many of the characters along the way, most adorably the big honey bear Baloo.
Intriguingly, this adaptation imports some clear references to The Lion King (1994), which was influenced by The Jungle Book in the first place. There’s a rock where the animals of the jungle gather, a stampede scene, and a feline with a facial scar. Director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks also sought Rudyard Kipling’s original story for inspiration, including the inclusion of Kipling’s all-for-one, one-for-all philosophy from his poem “The Law of the Jungle,” as recited by the Wolf Pack (which Baloo later calls propaganda).
The one sad thing about this hyper-modern re-creation is the limited number of songs taken from the original film, which made it so magical and fun. They kept “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” but that was it. Granted, these two songs kept me humming for hours after leaving the theater, but the emphasis of the film was definitely not on the score and soundtrack.
However, this adaptation did take the visuals to the next level. The animals, scenery, and even the fire that eventually overtakes parts of the jungle were crystal clear, persuasive, and beautiful. I almost wished I had paid the extra six dollars to see it in 3D. The film weaves beautifully between real humans and CGI animals.
The acting, voice, and live action, were what put the film over the top. Bill Murray fills the role that was made for him, singing and trouncing around making jokes. Elba is chilling, while Kingsley is the perfect mix of loving father figure and rational rule keeper.
A perfect movie for any setting, any combination of people, and any kind of evening, The Jungle Book is worth the full ticket price, even in 3D.