Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Marks
Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, and Neel Sethi
Disney has yet again adapted Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” as an animated feature in 1967 and as a live-action feature in 1994. This version of “The Jungle Book,” like the 1967 version and Kipling’s book, keeps the anthropomorphic animals, and like the 1994 version, it is a live-action adaptation. Well, it is more like “live-action” because this version is not a cartoon; the only aspect of this movie that is not generated by CGI is the sole human actor, Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli. I am someone how is reasonably well-versed in the literary classics, but unfortunately, “The Jungle Book” is one of these classics that have yet to cross my path. Based on general research I do know that with their previous two versions took some liberties – as many adaptations do – with Kipling’s work. Because I have not yet crossed paths with Kipling’s “Jungle Book” I cannot say whether or not Favreau delivers a more faithful adaptation than the previous versions.
The only place to start discussing this version of “The Jungle Book” is the CGI. Last year saw the release of movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which both emphasized the fact that they had made a return to using to practical effects, although, both of those movies feature plenty of CGI. I find it odd that only a year after the big trumpeting for practical effects that along comes this movie that raises the bar for CGI. The way the CGI is used in this movie is “Star Wars” prequel level, but unlike the “Star Wars” prequels there are two things that the CGI in “The Jungle Book” has that the “Star Wars” prequels did not have: photorealism and a realistic integration.
The most surprising thing about “The Jungle Book” is that the entire movie was shot in downtown Los Angeles, and not in an Indian jungle, though because of the photorealism of the CGI you would believe that it was filmed in the jungle. Nothing in this movie looks like it was created with CGI. The thing about CGI is that like all things technological, it very quickly becomes obsolete. In the space of five to ten years you can tell that you are looking at CGI that is five to ten years old – then again watching old CGI is no different than watching an old movie like “My Fair Lady” that was shot entirely on a soundstage. I hope that the photorealism of the CGI in “The Jungle Book” will give the film a more timeless look than the other CGI-heavy movies.
Not only is the CGI in “The Jungle Book” photorealistic, but the interaction between the CGI and the human element is seamless. The movie does not look like it was shot entirely on a green screen. An astute viewer will be able to tell; I noticed only a few spots where I even noticed the movie looking like it was shot on green screen. All of the interactions between Sethi and the digitally rendered environment looked real. The plants, the water, the ground, etc. reacted and sounded, as they would have if Sethi had been interacting with these things in reality.
The voice cast in the movie was, to quote Darth Vader, “Impressive, most impressive.” Everyone in the voice cast Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murry, Christopher Walken, and Scarlett Johansson – in a scene with incredible sound design – were all fantastic. I do not know why the Oscars have not yet put a category for voice acting; maybe it is because voice acting was essentially not an “art” for a long time. Maybe it is because the first “brand name” voice performance I can name – off the top of my head – is Robin Williams in “Aladdin” from 1992. Several of the voice performances in “The Jungle Book” are certainly Oscar caliber.
“The Jungle Book” is a visual marvel that is spectacular to witness, fantastic voice performances and Favreau even connects his version to the 1967 version by including “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna be Like You.” Thus far these “live-action remakes” Disney has been doing of their animated classics – the two that are the good ones – excel because they can tie themselves to the classic animated version while still being new and different adaptations of the source material.