Disney is determined to remake every single of one of its animated films as live action blockbusters, and so far the results have been a mixed bag. ALICE IN WONDERLAND, while fun, doesn’t hold up on subsequent viewings. CINDERELLA, while visually striking, suffered from hobbled writing and uneven casting.
The 1967 THE JUNGLE BOOK was not one of my favorite animated classics; it didn’t inspire me to supreme heights of excitement.
Jon Favreau as a director gave me hope for a live action reboot. He consistently turns out great films – IRON MAN, ELF, CHEF – and his work hasn’t ever disappointed.
I’m thrilled to say THE JUNGLE BOOK doesn’t break the pattern of fantastic films under Favreau’s helm. Smoothing the original film into one cohesive story rather than several episodic scenes, Justin Marks‘ screenplay is just what the doctor ordered.
The film is truly eye popping in DolbyVision 3D, a must if available near you. Not since AVATAR has there been a film so worthy of the 3D upcharge. The depth, the motion, the light – it all comes to vivid jungly life in 3D.
The film makes itself look easy, which it most certainly wasn’t. Shot entirely in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, the digital wizards of WETA worked with Favreau and a fleet of other VFX teams to create the incredible world of Kipling’s jungle.
Everything is perfect down to the last detail, and newcomer Neel Sethi is the human glue that holds everything together as Mowgli. Charming and plucky, this Mowgli is resilient, but not quite so vacant as his animated counterpart.
The voice cast is pitch perfect, with Bill Murray as Baloo proving to be the best casting since Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. Murray is hilarious, and even gets to lend his distinct loungey singing style to “The Bare Necessities.” Lupita N’yongo is warm and wonderful as wolf mother Raksha. Ben Kingsley is the perfect Bagheera, aloof and all business. Scarlett Johansson is suitably creepy as the decidedly not humorous Kaa, and her rendition of “Trust In Me” is mesmerizing over the film’s credits. Idris Elba is terrifying as Shere Khan, and will no doubt instigate nightmares for millions of children around the world.
Adults will likely have nightmares from Christopher Walken‘s King Louie, the closest a Disney character will ever get to PULP FICTION. Walken is not just creepy, he’s bizarre, and his “I Wanna Be Like You” is menacing rather than light-hearted.
THE JUNGLE BOOK deserves to be a big fat hit. Disney has already signed Favreau and Marks to a sequel, so I expect we’ll be back in the jungle with Mowgli sooner rather than later. Fine with me – I didn’t want to leave in the first place.
THE JUNGLE BOOK swings into theatres April 15, 2016.