By: Traves Bezenar
Disney’s live action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling's ‘The Jungle Book’ released in theaters this week to tremendous success. The film, directed by Jon Favreau, managed to bring in over $103M domestically, and over $300M worldwide, exceeding all expectations. But the box office numbers alone aren’t enough to do the film credit. ‘The Jungle Book’, is an instant classic in my humble opinion; and more than lives up to the original.
There’s a lot to love about ‘The Jungle Book’, but I would be remiss if I didn’t start with the visuals. To put it simply, the CGI in ‘The Jungle Book’ is fantastic.From the first few frames of Mowgli racing through the treetops, you’re transported to the world of Kipling's novel. Everything looks and feels real, and unlike so many CGI heavy movies of today, there is no point where you feel taken out of the realness due to hiccups in the visual effects. The most notable stand out in the effects department is far and away the animals. Disney’s artists did a wonderful job capturing the emotions and facial expressions of the voice actors and relating that to their onscreen characters. There was even a point where I found myself asking what was and wasn’t computer generated and in this day and age that hardly ever happens.
The second thing that really stood out to me about the film was the voice acting. There were a few casting choices I was unsure of going into the film (Bill Murray as Baloo and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa) but those fears were quickly put to rest. The opening narration and subsequent performance as Bagheera from Ben Kingsley is phenomenal to say the least. Kingsley adds a layer of sophistication and nobility to the panther character that was missing in the original animated Disney version. However Idris Elba and Bill Murray are the true stand out stars of the film for me. Elba gives Sherr Khan a kind effortless, yet menacing quality that chilled me to my bones. In contrast to Elba, Murray is equally lighthearted and innocent as Baloo (which I was pleasantly surprised about). I feel like I also have to mention Neel Sethi’s performance here because he does an amazing job. It’s rare to see such a compelling and convincing performance from someone as young (14) as Sethi and I wouldn't be surprised at all if his name gets thrown around come Oscar time later this year.
I didn’t expect there to be any music in this retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’, but lo and behold there was. Bill Murray and Neel Sethi sing a soulful and jazzy rendition of ‘Bare Necessities’ that captures the fun of the original while still making it its own. Later on Christopher Walken (King Louie) gives an equally soulful version of “I Wanna Be Like You” that had me doing the juke and jive in my theater chair. All in all I expect the sound track to sell a lot of copies based on these two songs alone. I know I for one will be downloading them from iTunes as soon as they’re available.
Sadly there are a few things that aren’t perfect about this film. The third act felt incredibly rushed to me. I felt it could have done with another ten or twenty minutes to really tell the story properly. There are also a few plot holes and inconsistencies in time that popped out to me while watching but not enough to really affect my enjoyment.
When all's said and done, I loved this movie. From start to finish it’s the most fun I’ve had at the theater all year. It’s leaps and bounds better than the original animated version and anything else you could see on the big screen this week. If you’re on the fence about going, bite the bullet and go. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.