The Jungle Book, 2016.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken.
The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.
It goes without saying that Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book is visually spectacular. It might not seem it from the first few frames (at first some of the animals look a bit fake, and their mouths moving is also initially a little bit jarring), but by the first appearance of Idris Elba’s Shere Khan (I’m pretty sure a sizable portion of the budget went to making him look like the most battle scarred and imposing black striped tiger to walk the earth), the hype around this movie’s CGI becomes reality.
The jungle itself is vast and filled to the brim with detail all over trees, water, dirt, and even the animals themselves. Whenever a creature comes into contact with some sort of substance or residue that sticks to their body (rain hitting these characters is beyond stunning), the effects that it would cause are noticeably visible. You can even see fur on the various animals rise up or outwards. I can’t say if the movie is this naturally detailed without 3D, but either way, The Jungle Book demands to be seen in that format, for the amount of environmental depth that can also be gathered while watching young man-cub Mowgli do something like briskly fly across tree branches with his feet, swing across vines, fearlessly take leaps of faith and more is surreal. The scenes with fire (referred to as the red flower) might be some of the most visually striking images ever put to cinema.
Some of the best moments in The Jungle Book have absolutely nothing to do with the classic characters, but rather mainly being transported to a location and observing miniscule and often irrelevant details. It could be random small creatures acting all cute and generally doing something weird before the primary characters come into focus, or observing those tiny critters carrying out activities in the background of a scene.
To be honest, a lot of the specifics and technical wizardry with how all of these special effects are accomplished is slightly confusing, but it was essentially done the same way Gravity went through production. In layman’s terms, that basically means digitally mapping out a scene to the tiniest details (including the most arbitrary things such as distance traveled), having Mowgli act with that knowledge in mind surrounded by nothing but a green screen, and then combining it all. Putting it bluntly, it is a very difficult and arduous task. Furthermore, newcomer Neel Sethi deserves all the credit in the world for successfully turning in a great performance with absolutely nothing else real to interact with. As awesome as it would be, a talking bear named Baloo voiced by Bill Murray does not exist for Mowgli to ride on; it’s actually just some sort of mechanical contraption on a sound-stage.
The voice actors are all on point and perfectly casted as well, in some cases having facial features and expressions (Bill Murray’s sleepy eyes for example) digitally plastered over their computer-generated counterparts, which is a lot less creepy looking than it sounds. Alongside that, pretty much every performance is a complete knockout; Idris Elba is menacing and downright nasty, Scarlett Johansson plays Kaa with a seductive voice (Scarlett Johansson is also a much better actress when doing similar roles), Lupita Nyong’o makes for a very nurturing and caring motherly wolf, and Bill Murray now practically feels born to have sang The Bare Necessities.
Basically, from both a filmmaking and special effects perspective, it is nearly impossible to fault The Jungle Book. However, the movie will definitely be more enjoyable for children, and doesn’t really come across as an engrossing or completely stimulating piece of art for adults. The idea that a man-cub could be a child to a wolf, not directly linked by blood, is as close as the movie gets to a powerful message. Otherwise, The Jungle Book is like hitting up the zoo and visiting as many animals as possible, except these are all much cooler and can talk.
The structure of the narrative is a bit messy, often containing characters like the aforementioned Kaa that show up for five minutes without really adding anything to the story. The sidetrack with King Louie (now voiced by Christopher Walken) just feels like an excuse to have another visually stunning and spectacular action sequence, while also being able to shoehorn in another classic song. The flow of the movie doesn’t really work, leaving the movie only truly coming across as riveting when Khan is on-screen. Naturally though, the climax between him and Mowgli erupts into the cinematic excellence all movies should strive to achieve.
The Jungle Book is a damn good-looking movie (easily one of the best ever), but an average piece of storytelling. Still, it will undeniably be fun for the whole family and totally worth shelling out the astronomical amount of cash that it will take for parents, children, and even grandparents to all get in the door. It’s fairly rare that a narrative comes across as mediocre, with the movie managing to be as thrilling and wondrous as this one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★