Disney’s 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book is an ingenious, imaginative amalgamation of live action photography and computer generated background, foreground, and effects shots that are accomplished so seamlessly that its studio origins are remarkably camouflaged.
The Production: 4/5
Disney’s 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book is an ingenious, imaginative amalgamation of live action photography and computer generated background, foreground, and effects shots that are accomplished so seamlessly that its studio origins are remarkably camouflaged. The result is an exciting, entertaining package of thrills and comedy (with more attention to the former in this version than in the 1967 Disney animated favorite) that should delight every member of the family. And its huge artistic and commercial success certainly guarantees that more of Disney’s classic animation library are on their way to be fashioned into live action remakes.
The orphaned Mowgli (Neel Sethi) was brought by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to the wolf pack when his father was killed in the jungle, and while mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and father wolf Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) have brought him up as one of their own, it becomes clear when the venomous killer tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) arrives on the scene that for the safety of the pack, Mowgli must be returned to his own kind in the man village. On his journey back to the village, Mowgli gets separated from Bagheera during one of Khan’s attacks and is introduced to the easy-going bear Baloo (Bill Murray) who lives for honey and relaxation and convinces Mowgli that he can become a man in the jungle with him without retreating to the man village. But in spite of the many adventures they share, the threat of the embittered Shere Khan is never far away.
Justin Marks’ screenplay returns several of the characters from Rudyard Kipling’s original novel which were eliminated in previous versions of the tale while also tying in classic moments (and songs) from the 1967 animated version which seems to be one of those perennials which nearly every movie fan has a memory of from his youth. An opening chase through the jungle as Mowgli trains with his brother cubs sets the stage for an adventurous string of action set pieces which involve the fearless lad, sequences which build in intensity and danger as the movie advances until by the time we get to the final showdown between the jungle creatures and Mowgli against the seemingly unstoppable Shere Khan, tension is ratcheted to the max. But the film astounds not just with the chases and fights so beautifully sustained by director Jon Favreau but impresses throughout as the photorealistic CGI work remains completely convincing that we’re deep in the Indian jungle with its flash floods, animal stampedes, and all manner of creatures both friendly and hostile. And for those who were worried, the two best-known songs from the 1967 film “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” are both present and accounted for even if Neel Sethi’s Mowgli has no sense of pitch in the former song and Christopher Walken’s King Louie (an invention for the animated version) is slightly reimagined in the latter for his role in this adaptation (with a few new lyric lines courtesy of the song’s co-author Richard Sherman).
Neel Sethi is a real find as Mowgli, completely natural before the camera and seemingly game for anything as he carries this huge movie on his ten-year old shoulders especially impressive when one considers that he’s working mostly in a vacuum as the only live action character in the movie. The voice work for the animals is all to a person extremely impressive with perhaps Idris Elba’s snarling, threatening Shere Khan the standout among a very strong cast. Bill Murray stresses the comedy rather than the hipster factor as Baloo making all of his scenes precious and attention grabbing, and Scarlett Johansson’s take on the viper Kaa is every bit as mesmerizing as Sterling Holloway’s was in 1967. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito carry much emotional weight as Mowgli’s surrogate parents. The late Garry Shandling is hilarious in a few brief bits as the possessive porcupine Ikki, and Brighton Rose’s sweet voice makes Gray the most precocious of Mowgli’s younger wolf siblings. Ben Kingsley offers natty authority as Mowgli’s mentor Bagheera while Christopher Walken sounds straight off the bus from Jersey as the calculating, dominating King Louie.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully captured in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout which is even more impressive since so much of the film is digitally rendered in a computer which usually necessitates a slight softening to blend live filming with computer graphics, but that’s no problem here. Color is rich where appropriate, but bright colors have not been pushed on the production with the skies mostly gray and shadows rich and deep in the main. Contrast has been consistently rendered in the transfer. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The movie was presented in select theaters in 3D (director Jon Favreau in the commentary even mentions particular shots which were very effective in 3D), and the press release mentions that a 3D version will be offered later in the year, but the film for the present at least is only being released in 2D here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is very impressive (it was presented in Dolby Atmos theatrically) with dialogue beautifully recorded and even occasionally directionalized (Kaa’s introduction justifies a home theater surround set-up). John Debney’s music gets superbly immersive placement in the fronts and rears while atmospheric effects likewise put the listener in the heart of the action with continual sounds split between the channels.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: director Jon Favreau provides a very informative and fast moving commentary on scenes and shots which fans of the film will enjoy listening to.
The Jungle Book Reimagined (35:02, HD): director Jon Favreau sits down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to discuss The Jungle Book and reflect on the years they devoted to the reimagining of this timeless tale. Along the way we also hear from production designer Christopher Glass, computer effects supervisor John Brennan, composer John Debney, and actors Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken.
I Am Mowgli (8:18, HD): director Jon Favreau introduces Neel Sethi chosen from over 2,000 boys who auditioned for the part. We see behind-the-scenes work with Neel and hear from costume designer Laura Jean Shannon who was completely impressed with his professionalism.
King Louie’s Temple Layer by Layer (3:14, HD): the step-by-step building of the King Louie sequence in the movie is shown in behind-the-scenes glimpses featuring director Jon Favreau, actor Christopher Walken, and the musicians who provided accompaniment for Walken’s vocals, and composer-lyricist Richard Sherman who was present for the music recording session.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case
The Jungle Book is another of Disney’s masterful reimaginings in live action of one of its animated classics, and it’s almost wholly successful with a distinctive voice cast, an appealing child in the central role, and smoothly orchestrated computer graphics which bring the world of Rudyard Kipling’s jungle tales to vivid life. Recommended!