The Jungle Book

'The Jungle Book' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Justin Marks

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Forgetting about your worries and your strife is pretty easy to do when Jon Favreau’s bold decision to remake the Disney animated classic all but steals you away to a wonderful world filled with adventure, danger and English-speaking animals.

It’s actually quite amazing how talented a director Favreau (yes, as in Tony Stark’s favorite body guard, Happy) is as his latest passion project showcases a knack for both interpretation and reinvention, borrowing that which made the 1967 animation a timeless adventure while modifying certain elements with an even more intimate examination of life in this complex jungle, first envisioned by 19th Century poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling. Though it’s not the first time the actor/director has offered up a heaping helping of popcorn-munching entertainment, The Jungle Book could well be his most complete and emotionally satisfying piece. And it has just one human actor in it.

The Jungle Book, first and foremost, is the epitome of a Disney production. It’s wholesome, family friendly and heartwarming. Our capacity for empathy is a testament to the effectiveness of the digitally-rendered characters; by all accounts this is the film we remember, only it’s not animated. Bathed in the same effervescence of innocence and self-discovery that defines Disney’s animated offerings, Favreau’s interpretation gains strength as playfulness and good spirits eventually give way to danger and darkness as the story we fell in love with so long ago is played out once more but on a much more visceral level.

That the film actually benefits from treading familiar ground is also a testament to the strength of Favreau’s convictions that this is a story worthy of the live-action treatment. More importantly, The Jungle Book hits all the beats we expect it to, even finding time to add new dimensions to the many character interactions we’ve held so dear for nearly half a century. A fixation on the harsh realities of surviving in this tropical environment also helps steer the production away from utter predictability, even though the showdowns that threaten the very fiber of the MPAA’s standards for what makes a PG-rated film are expected from the very beginning.

Favreau (yes, as in the guy whom Paul Rudd puked all over in I Love You, Man)’s wisest decision was to place emphasis on characters, letting the nature-versus-nurture debate at the heart of this tale of survival manifest naturally. As Mowgli learns the kinds of things he’s capable of — he’s quite handy when it comes to building things — is he doomed to repeat the actions of his elders? Can he be taught to be different, to not abuse the power of fire?

Mowgli (introducing Neel Sethi) first comes flying into the frame with wolves in hot pursuit, an apparent training exercise designed by his panther protector Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to help the man-cub outlast predators. We get a deeper sense of his adoptive family unit as we’re introduced to the wolf pack clan gathering at the edge of a rocky precipice, preparing for the rains that are soon to come, soon to summon animals of all kinds to a nearby watering hole. Life seems pretty swell as a member of the pack, especially if you call the honorable Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) dad and the warm, fiercely protective Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) mom.

But then there are threats to such peace, like the prowling beast Shere Khan, a villain made viable on the virtue of Idris Elba’s deep, booming voice alone — a monster of a tiger whose facial scars are inextricably linked to Mowgli’s past. This isn’t, however, a villain introduced for the sake of it. Khan’s concern is actually one shared by all sorts of animals, including the wolf pack: that the man-cub will one day be a grown man and, based on experiences, fully grown men bring nothing but death and destruction to the jungle. Animals greatly fear their “red flower;” fire, the ultimate villain, plays just as dramatic a role here as it did in the 1967 version.

Mowgli’s fate, with one or two wrinkles thrown in, is the same as before: his future is largely unknown. Bagheera and Akela agree that he’d be safer with his own kind, and Bagheera sets off on a journey with the boy that will expose the pair to intermittent treachery and silliness, including, but not limited to, seductive snakes (Scarlett Johansson as Kaa is genius casting, even if she’s underused), oafish bears desperate for honey (Bill Murray is, and probably to no one’s surprise, the pinnacle of excellence here, making for an arguably better Baloo than Phil Harris) and one gigantic ape with delusions of grandeur. (On that note, Christopher Walken unfortunately shares Johansson’s plight of being stuck with an underserved subplot; it’s basically a cameo.)

You can’t really overstate the impact an A-list cast has on a movie like this; personalities fit the wild animals to a T and all signs point to everyone involved taking this project extremely seriously . . . even Emjay Anthony, who Favreau liked enough in the making of Chef to give him a small part as one of the wolf cubs. And the knock-on effect: we, the paying customers, get to kick back and enjoy the simple bare necessities of escaping from reality and into the visual wonderland and heightened sense of humanity only anthropomorphic animals who have a tendency to break out into song and dance can provide.

The Jungle Book is many things: it’s one of the year’s biggest surprises, an achievement in CGI rendering, and a new standard to which all upcoming family outings must rise this year. Above all, it’s an immensely enjoyable blockbuster-type release. It is that way from beginning to end. Even though a few scenes expose the more obligatory side of Favreau’s directorial style — King Louie really needed a longer introduction and a less rushed exit, as did Kaa — there’s more than enough here to proclaim 2016 as the year in which Kipling’s visionary tale about man and animal coexisting became immortalized.

Recommendation: The Jungle Book is proof that sometimes, just sometimes, with great risk comes even greater reward. Jon Favreau rewards audiences with a remake that stays true to not only the characters, but the emotional challenges and even a few of the songs that popularized the original animated version. Fans of the original, it’s time to let out that sigh of relief. Favreau and his excellent cast have truly outdone themselves. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “No matter where you go or what they may call you, you will always be my son.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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35 thoughts on “The Jungle Book

  1. I, like a whole of other people no doubt wondered what on earth they were thinking when this was first proposed. However, your ace review chimes with what everyone else seems to think. I’ve not been a big fan of Favreau’s work in the past few years, but hats off to him here.

    • Dude I’m telling you I’m just as bad at getting back to comments. 😉 Haha!

      The hesitation to go see this is more than understandable; I personally have held the Reitherman animation in the highest regard, basically right alongside the likes of Toy Story, for years. I didn’t think Favreau had a chance. But I have to say man, the end results here prove nothing but a labor of love and I think my enjoyment of it was a direct reflection of that

  2. I can’t believe how many people who I trust are loving this movie! The previews looked lame to me. Now I am very excited to see it.

    • I can’t say I blame you for your skepticism. I wasn’t all that anxious to go see a studio trample all over my childhood but Jon Favreau is a name I’m increasingly trusting and the movie here is further proof that I’ll be doing so much more in the near future. He’s great. This movie’s great.

  3. Taking successful animated movies and turning them into live-action films has been a tried-and-true formula for Disney as of late. (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella) But hey it works. Kaa got a risky sex change with Scarlett Johansson, but that even (dare I say it) improved upon the original. I could listen to her tell stories all day.

    • Of all the animation-turned-live action Disney’s, I have to say this is the only one I’ve ever been keen on seeing. 🙂 Although there was a lot of positivity around Cinderella that I might have to check it out too. But you have some good points, as much as I really thought this was a quality product and a heck of a gutsy move on Favreau’s part, remaking a near-50-year-old movie, which basically made me think it was better because of that risk of failure or what-have-you . . . . I’m not convinced this will stand up quite as well as Reitherman’s animation decades down the road. I did think it was much more than just a pretty CG spectacle but I hesitate to say it will have the same kind of staying power

    • Thanks a lot dude, I actually just saw it in a standard theater. Almost got in for the IMAX 3d but in the end i just can’t spend that on a single movie. That’s what it costs to buy a DVD!

        • The Jungle Book has SOO many good songs. I don’t think the Bear Necessities was necessarily topped, or even matched here as the original one is just so damn toe-tappin’ly amazin’ly, knee-slappin’ly catchy and upbeat. And who can overlook Baloo crashing King Louie’s party?? That shit is just amazing. Watched it every year I was spending in England with me grandparents (I live in America now so it was like a Christmas/summer thing).

          It was this, Jurassic Park or the Fully Monty. Hmm. . . .

    • Much appreciated Dan. My fears have been allayed after sitting through this amazing rendition. I don’t know why I doubted Favreau in the first place!

  4. ‘there’s more than enough here to proclaim 2016 as the year in which Kipling’s visionary tale about man and animal coexisting became immortalized.’ I couldn’t have thought of a better finish. I liked the film alot and I loved it’s darker tone and original characterization…it didn’t just feed off the previous versions. I would have liked it if it were more ambiguous though because I felt the film was over-saturated with villainous characters.

    • Thanks so much! Wasn’t this great? If I remember right, there were the same number of villainous roles in the Wolfgang Reitherman version; Kaa, Louie and of course Shere Khan. They’re all here. It’s a more serious movie that’s for sure, and aside from a few rushed scenes I thought it came as close to perfect as you can really get.

  5. I’ll admit that when I first heard they were doing another Jungle Book, I was skeptical. But it really sounds like this one delivers well.

    • Certainly a risky proposition for anyone, but given Favreau’s track record as a director I really didn’t have much to worry about! Haha. Give it a go man, I hope you get a lot out of it like I did

  6. Let me preface this by saying I am here for the #wow tag.

    Now that we have that out of the way, great review, and something I will eventually check out because it has a great cast and I really enjoy Favreau!

    • #wow

      #itsprettyfunnyhowofteniuseit

      #whatever

      This indeed was a good #wow because Favreau and the gang did this thing justice! So pumped about it, too. Hope you have fun with it too

  7. High praise indeed Tom! This has got terrific reviews over here and I’m quite excited about seeing it (whereas I was completely indifferent about three or four days ago). Sounds like great fun.

    • Dude it *is* great fun. Jon Favreau really has knocked it out of the “jungle” so to speak. Hype or no hype, It’s a must-see in my book. And I’m really, really glad to be saying that man. I thought this could have gone either way, and it could have gone really really south. I wouldn’t mind sitting through this again in theaters.

      • It’s fair to say you are a fan! I didn’t love it, because of the way the music feels secondary, but it’s definitely better than I thought it would be when I first caught the trailer. Liked Elba’s voice acting a lot, too.

    • Cheers Damien! I’m relieved to have a reader of this review, as I was quite sure that all the rave reviews and positive word-of-mouth about it that’s been ongoing since Friday would mean my two cents would be getting overlooked pretty easily and quickly. Haha! I stalled so long on this review, just trying to put into words how much I loved this. I might like this more than the original dude. That’s saying something.

      • I’ve been totally oblivious to all the other reviews going around. Now I need to see it myself. I don’t know why I assumed it would be bad when I first heard about it. There are a lot of great people involved.

        • Sometimes it’s good to be in the dark on things. I don’t know where I stand, a lot of the time I like having my watch untainted by other opinions and other times I’d like to be prepared for what to expect. I think the latter is more a case when something comes out that I’m skepitcal about and the other situation applies when something comes out that I highly anticipate and have a good gut-feeling for.

          The Jungle Book so easily could have failed (and maybe it doesn’t have the same effect on all people) but it’s I think Favreau’s best effort yet. Hope you do enjoy it when you see it. I’ll keep an eye on your page for a review

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