The Jungle Book (2016) Review
Reviewed by Connor Johnston.
“This is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Unlike many other Hollywood reboots of recent years, 2015’s Cinderella was a shining success among viewers and critics, not only staying true to the magic of the original film- but in this reviewer’s opinion improving on it, while 2014’s Maleficent was slightly lacking though still offered an enjoyable and original take on an age-old tale. This month, Disney has once again reinterpreted an animated classic for modern audiences with Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and in short: this is something very, very special.
Some background: Everyone has THAT film that they watched over an over again as a child, I, being the critically minded and artistic toddler I was, of course had a few, Including 1967’s The Jungle Book. Regardless of how much nostalgia I associated with the movie, having not revisited it in years since my childhood, I’ll be the first to admit that while entertaining, the film survived more impressively in my memory. While this year’s adaptation does take a fair amount of inspiration from the animated version, it is far more reminiscent of the original Kipling tales. Not only does Favreau’s reimagining surpass its predecessor, it is of such a high quality that it really can flourish without the support of a legacy behind it.
“No matter where you go, or what they call you…. You will always be my son“
Accompanying the film is an incredible list of high profile actors, each perfectly cast in their respective roles. Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera is arguably the most enchanting performance, not only bookending the film through his narration but also providing a brilliant contrast with Bill Murray’s Baloo who effortlessly captures the fun-loving, comically pleasing and surprisingly layered nature of his role. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan plays a much larger role in this imagining of the film than his animated counterpart, with the voice behind Luther at the reigns, his performance is both chillingly formidable and provides a real threat which drive forward the action of the film.
The casting of Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken as Raksha, Akela and the slightly menacing King Louie are similarly inspired, and though unfortunately not receiving as much screen time as her co-stars; Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Kaa is both haunting and memorable. For me she’s very much what Wonder Woman was to Batman V Superman: not requiring a lot of time to make a lasting impression. However, despite the long list of accomplished actors associated with the piece, it’s newcomer Neel Sethi who steals the show as the only live action performer in the entire film. A lot of the film relies on the young actor’s ability to sell the wonder and hold the humanity of this tale. Though he’s charged with having little to no experience in the industry and the complete lack of other actors to work against, he makes everything believable. Sethi’s Mowgli is charismatic, kinetic, utterly impressive and is undoubtedly a starting point for this talented young man’s shining career.
“I’ll keep you close, I’ll keep you safe… Let go of your fear now, and trust in me“
From whichever angle you approach it the film is expertly crafted, and specifically in terms of its visuals. For an environment so alluring and immersive, the fact that it’s been constructed mostly with visual effects is simply difficult to believe, conjuring up the same feelings of awe one would associate with the visuals of James Cameron’s Avatar. The animation of each character is similarly impressive, with such a strong attention to detail ironically adding a sense of realism to such an impossible and fantastical tale.
Of course one cannot sing the praises of this film without mentioning John Debney’s incredibly thrilling and warming score that thrives through its perfect balance of nostalgic compositions and original arrangements. Speaking of the music, the two lyrical songs featured throughout the film are specific highlights. However the movie is so jam packed with action and a well-paced narrative that it doesn’t suffer from loosing the bulk of the songs that drove its animated counterpart. For those lamenting the loss of some favorites however, the good news is that the credits, as well as having quite an original and entertaining design, feature some pleasing surprises including Scarlett Johansson’s trippy variation of “Trust in Me”.
“I am Mowgli, and this is my home“
Regardless of the the stunning use of CGI and impressive line up of cast members, the real strengths of this film lie instead with its sense of adventure and strong moral undertones. This is a film that is full of heart and bursting with creativity. With something for everyone, it really is the epitome of a ‘family movie’. Jon Favreau has not only recreated, but reinvented both the work of Kipling and the original film from which he takes equal inspiration. An immersive, visually breathtaking and adventurous addition to Disney’s new spate of live-action reimaginings that captured everything one could hope for and more from one of their childhood favorites. This is a film that will receive a lot of praise, and deserves every inch of it. Though you might have heard this story before, this film is still relevant as it contemplates on the importance of family, self- growth, and how man’s progress can leave scars on nature. To strip this review down to the bare necessities: It is wonderful.