Why can’t all animals of the jungle get along and jam out?
In this reboot, we find young Mowgli (bright and spirited newcomer Neel Sethi) running around the hills with his wolf family. Although Mowgli himself is not in fact a wolf, he was raised as one when he was just a little baby and ever since then, has been called “man cub”. While every animal in the jungle seems to be used to and fine with Mogwli, one such beast does not. Here enters Shere Khan (Idris Elba), an evil, maniacal and fearsome tiger who lets his presence be known everywhere he goes, who demands that Mowgli leave the jungle, before it’s too late. Mogwli does leave the jungle and head for land where humans exist, but on the way, he meets a colorful list of characters and other beasts of the jungle. There’s Baloo (Bill Murray), the free-spirited, warm and fuzzy bear that meets Mogwli and strikes up of a nice friendship with him; there’s Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a snidely, slithering snake who may be taking advantage of the young and meek Mogwli; and most of all, there’s an ape named King Louie (Christopher Walken) who tries to strike up a deal with Mogwli.
Did we really need a reboot of the Jungle Book? Especially one in 3D? Probably not, but hell, it surprisingly feels good to have one that’s this great. Jon Favreau’s been a solid director for as long as he’s taken up time behind the lenses, and while he hasn’t always had the best of movies (looking at you, Cowboys & Aliens), there’s no denying that there’s something about the guy’s artistry and passion that make him a solid film-maker. And all of that same artistry and passion that’s been showing in the past decade or so, is out in full, bright spirit with the Jungle Book; the kind of big-budget blockbuster that you’d expect to be a totally soulless, lifeless and utterly boring cash-cow trying to bring a tale as old as time for the new generation of kids.
However, it’s very far from.
If anything, the Jungle Book is as fun as you can get with a blockbuster right now. What with the summer season looming on the horizon, it’s nice to get a blockbuster that, yes, is big, ambitious and a tad loud, but also isn’t bloated by any means. I don’t know if Favreau himself had any affinity or love for the Jungle Book original story or movie, or if he just saw a nice paycheck gig to work with, but either way, he seems dedicated to making this material work more than it ought to.
And most of that shines through the absolutely breathtaking and beautiful CGI. In the post-Avatar world we live in, it’s nice to see a movie that uses the 3D format to its advantage, rather than just being slapped-on by a studio so that they can get more money and dimly light the screens some more. Obviously, there’s been some good 3D movies in the past few years, but for the most part, none of them have really used it to their advantage to allow for their story to pop-off and excite the audience anymore, or better yet, add an element to the movie, that makes it worth spending all of that money to see in the theaters.
Except for the Jungle Book.
Here, it seems like Favreau knows that working with 3D can be fun, when you use it right. You don’t have to chuck each and everything at the audience to make them shriek and duck (although that does happen a few times here, but it’s fine, because it’s fun), nor do you have to make it seem like your story doesn’t exist without it – you can most definitely have a fun time with it and allow for it to draw audiences into the world your creating more. Here, in the wide, vast and wild world of this jungle that Mogwli and all of these characters live and survive in, it’s hard not to feel like what we’re seeing is just a small part, of a very big world and it’s these scenes where we get to see it adventured out into that makes the Jungle Book, at times, exhilarating.
But what Favreau does best with the Jungle Book is that he gives us a kids movie that, yes, can also be for adults, but mostly for the whole family. While there’s plenty of scary and downright terrifying situations that happen here, Favreau never seems to overdo the sheer terror, but he also doesn’t downplay it, either. In this jungle, we know that anything and anyone can come, get you, and make you their lunch, while also knowing that there truly is something beautiful and majestic about these creatures that live in it, too. Favreau seems to love this world that he’s creating, but he also doesn’t forget to show that there’s some true danger for those who live in it. But have no fear, parents – your kids will not be scared s***less. If anything, they’ll be slightly chilled, but then, have it all go away when they get a look at the pretty, sometimes cute, but always believable elephants, wolves, bears, monkeys, buffalo, and plenty others.
And yes, this kids will also love all of the wonderfully colorful and lovely character who pop-up every now and then, just like kids, almost 50 years ago, fell in love with the same ones.
Except this time, they’re more life-like, detailed and most importantly, voiced by famous people!
Is there a reason why these characters should be voiced by famous actors? Not really. Some of the times, with movies such as this, the voice-acting can get so distracting that you just start to picture the famous actor, cozying up on a couch, drinking some fine Scotch, smoking a cigar, and pleasantly reading their lines, while also readying for their huge paychecks. And that happens here; actors like Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson, and Ben Kingsley, seem as if they’re just delivering their lines in their mansions, which isn’t to say that their bad, but just kind of plain and ordinary.
Others, like Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, and most of all, Bill Murray, actually bring their characters to full life and give us a reason as to why they deserve to be chosen in the first place. Elba is scary and menacing as the equally scary and menacing Shere Khan; Christopher Walken adds a funny, almost ironic tone and feel to the surprisingly scary King Louie; and Bill Murray, with all of the warmth and love in the world, makes Baloo appear all the more lovable and heartfelt than ever before. And yeah, making his big-screen debut, Neel Sethi is fine as Mogwli, but the story doesn’t always concern him or his acting skills; mostly, it just wants him to run around, yell stuff, and just seem like a kid, which he does fine with.
Oh, the days of youth. How I miss them so.
Consensus: Exciting, beautiful, and emotional, the Jungle Book hits all of the right notes that the original animated flick did many years ago, however, on a greater, far more grander scale – one that Jon Favreau is perfectly capable of handling.
8 / 10
…and bears! Oh my!
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire