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Trust In ‘The Jungle Book’ And Its Astonishing Visuals (Movie Review)

the jungle book thumbSeeing is truly believing when watching this live-action remake of The Jungle Book. Featuring one living actor on screen and a plethora of astonishing visuals created by Weta Digital surrounding him, there is plenty here to mesmerize a viewer as if they were staring into the eyes of Kaa. Further adding to the argument that CG visuals can easily invest a viewer if the film works overall, director Jon Favreau has made a fun and exciting all-ages adventure.

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We’ve now gotten a few of these live-action Disney remakes and given how successful they have been we will be getting more. The Jungle Book was an interesting choice, as it has a huge focus on non-human characters. Additionally, rather than a fantastical period drama set in some sort of monarchal society, we are dealing with the animal kingdom.

The story follows young Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a boy raised by wolves, as he attempts to conquer the challenges of living among the animals in the deep jungles of India. As the 1967 animated film is pretty slack in pacing, Justin Marks script incorporates more elements from the original books from Rudyard Kipling as well as more than a few nods to The Lion King in an attempt to develop a fairly traditional hero’s journey-type story. Plot-wise, things do play in a pretty conventional manner, but what a joy it is to watch.

Try to keep this in mind – aside from some props, Mowgli is the only real thing you are seeing on screen. The Jungle Book joins the ranks of films like Avatar and Life of Pi, as far as having a computer generated world develop in front of you so effectively. Filmed on some sound stages in LA and having young Sethi interact with puppets built by the Jim Henson Company (home release special features were invented for us to see this kind of thing, don’t let me down Disney), the results are about as good as they get for a film featuring talking animals, without slipping into the uncanny valley.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

However, all of this would matter little were the film not to deliver the fun. This is where the great supporting cast comes in to lend their voices. On the friendlier side of things, The Jungle Book features Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the black panther, and Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Espositio as wolves Raksha and Akela. Stepping in as the more dangerous characters, you have Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the giant python, a wonderfully charming Christopher Walken as King Louie the Gigantopithecus, and Idris Elba as Shere Khan the Bengal tiger.

Other animated films have gotten slack in the past for casting big name stars for these kinds of rolls, but it is hard to deny how strong these vocal performances are. Elba in particular is a true standout as far as Disney villains go. Regardless of how involved these actors were in the motion capture aspect of filming, you get a full sense of the weight Elba brings to Shere Khan’s intensity.  Then you have Murray, who brings a great breathe of fresh air to this film, as far as reminding us that Mowgli does not need to escape his situation every so often.

As strong as the animation and accompanying vocal performances are though (Sethi is also game enough to keep up), the film does have a strange sort of limit for itself. The Jungle Book feels like it should be somewhat epic in scope. It may be a 100-minute family film, but the world allows for near limitless possibilities, only to present a jungle that ends up feeling a bit closed in. Given that much of the film is supposed to be about Mowgli journeying away from where he grew up, it feels strange to see certain characters easily get to and from certain points in this jungle.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

Along with a story that doesn’t rely on too many surprises, The Jungle Book does seem to settle into an easy-going groove that matches up with its animated predecessor. Still, this is not to say the film does not deliver on peril or music numbers for that matter. There are some great action beats that should not keep the young ones away, but do provide plenty of excitement. We also get a couple renditions of some key songs, which were delightful to me, mainly because seeing Walken portray a giant ape and sing at the same time feels like something out of a dream I wish I had.

The Jungle Book really does have plenty to offer and will likely become another big success for Favreau. The director may have helped create the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, but he now has a trio of solid family adventures (Elf, Zathura) under his belt as well. Not bad at all for a man who went decidedly low-key to make Chef in 2014, only to come back with a technical ambitious joy of a film that is sure to please many. It seems Favreau really can forget about his worries this time around.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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