Disclosure: This is sponsored post on behalf of Disney’s Jungle Book. We were invited to pre-screen the movie in exchange for your honest review.
How do you update a 50-year-old classic like The Jungle Book without aping its unique blend of melody and comedy? It’s a tale as old as time as Disney tries to make its animated classics relevant in the new millennium by freshening them as live-action films. Director Jon Favreau and the writers of the new Jungle Book film shrewdly went for a lush, moody interpretation that hearkens back to the Rudyard Kipling book of the same name.
The current Jungle Book still owes much to the 1967 animated version, the last movie Walt Disney produced before his death. The famous and familiar music is deftly incorporated, but is reworked for a bolder, darker film. Character development is given higher priority this time around. We see much more of Mowgli’s bond with his adopted wolfpack family, understand Baloo’s motivation to befriend the man-cub, and discover why it’s a personal vendetta for Shere Khan.
Bring out your thesaurus with all the big words to praise the CGI. The depth of the jungle is breathtaking, especially in 3-D. You know it can’t be real because the animals are talking, but your mind wants to believe, because it seems so much more plausible that monkeys really are flinging Mowgli across the treetops. The credits end with the tiny tagline, “Filmed in downtown Los Angeles.” I originally laughed at the joke … until I realized it was completely true. Because everything except Mowgli is green-screen, the movie largely rests on the skinny shoulders of newcomer Neel Sethi. Luckily, he is believable as a petulant pre-teen who is trying overly hard to be a good wolf while slowly realizing he can be so much more.
Christopher Walken is a standout as the gargantuan King Louie. This is no jazzy buffoon as in the animated movie: Walken’s Louie is truly unnerving, to Mowgli and to the audience. The animators wisely gave him Walken’s signature dead eyes, and Walken’s voice supplied the rest of the menace. All of the animals in the movie are hyper-realistic and oversized, as if we are seeing them from Mowgli’s point of view.
Despite Sethi’s charm and some light moments with Bill Murray’s slothful slothbear Baloo, this is not a comedy/musical. I’d classify it as an adventure drama with a few comedic and musical moments. Parents thinking of taking younger children should be cautioned — our young hero spends most of the movie in peril from both predators and nature, and the fights between the animals are very realistic. I’d rate this film a strong PG.
One small problem I always found with the animated Jungle Book was its ending. I am happy to report that this Jungle Book supplies both a more satisfying climax and a more plausible conclusion. (It also leaves it open for the sequel that is already rumored!) This is a stunning, worthwhile reboot that stands among the best of Disney’s newer live-action films.
Bonus tip: Stay to watch the clever “book” and song during the credits!
Thanks to our contributor Vikki for this awesome review!