THE JUNGLE BOOK
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o,
Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken
Director: Jon Favreau
.1Audio: DTS HD
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2016
“Am I in the right monkey temple?”
If I may just be up front about it…I find this version of The Jungle Book superior to the classic animated film.
Not that I disliked the cartoon version, but it was never a top favorite Disney film of mine. It had great voice casting, particularly with the musical personalities of Phil Harris and Louis Prima, but…it just never really captured what Rudyard Kipling’s classic fantasy stories were really about. Not to mention Mowgli? More like some American brat than a true child of the Indian jungle.
Now, director Jon Favreau gets it just about perfect. The characters are more true to life, he has a splendid young Mowgli in Neel Sethi, and he manages a perfect balancing act between the Kipling stories and the Disney classic.
In the first place, this film is a visual wonder. Fantastic, yet believable, filled with detail and vivid characterizations, this is truly a children’s story come to life. And I mean a classic children’s story, which has its share of fear and terrible things.
Mowgli is a young man-cub left abandoned in the jungle after the death of his father, and who is raised by the local wolf pack as one of their own, under the tutelage of the panther Bagheera (Kingsley).
During a dry season, all animals by jungle law come to a temporary truce (no hunting, because water is more crucial than food), and it is there that the burned and scarred Shere Khan (Elba) the tiger first learns of Mowgli’s protection by the wolf pack. Carrying the physical marks of his encounter with man, Shere Khan plans for the day the rains return and the truce ends, down to terrorizing the wolf pack until they surrender the child.
Knowing no one but man can keep Mowgli safe from Shere Khan, Bagheera sets off to return the boy to the man village. Along the way he meets the mesmerizing snake Kaa (Johansson), the affable bum bear Baloo (Murray), and the re-imagined King Louie (Walken), which is the perfect homage to both the original cartoon and the Kipling stories: the character didn’t originally exist, and was an out-of-place orangutan in the cartoon (hardly indigenous to India). Here, he is the last of the extinct Gigantopithecus, a real ape ancestor native to the area and known to be at least nine feet tall. This Louis is not so out of place, and his lair and Walken’s vocalizing might make an older fan or two think of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
The message of the story is, of course, finding your place wherever that may be, and might even end a little differently than you’d expect. But the film packs plenty of adventure, action, visual wonder and humor to make the point highly entertaining. Neither Murray nor Walken sing as good as Harris and Prima in their day, but they bring a certain charm to their broken singing style, and kudos to Favreau for another tip of the cap to the original: the animated film was the first Disney cartoon to populate the cast with known stars, and here we get the updated version.
The overall feel of the film is more classic with a heightened sense of fantasy…while animation may have seemed ideal to tell tales of talking Jungle animals, this vision is the books come to life in the most vivid and enjoyable way possible. It’s hard to dethrone a classic, but that’s exactly what this movie has done.
Simply the best video presentation I’ve seen this year. High definition has rarely looked as glorious as it does here on this Blu-ray from Disney; amazing scenes with dark and light settings, and every frame is full of rich, vivid detail (no 3D version yet, but dang, this comes close as it is!). Action flows fluidly, with no artifacting or distortions anywhere. Marvelous!
Likewise, the 7.1 uncompressed audio delivers the trick, with a few big scenes that really help open up both front and rear stages. The score is remarkable and full, and dialogue always perfectly balanced against the music and effects.
There are short featurettes on the reimagining of the movie, Neel Sethi, and King Louie’s temple. There’s also audio commentary from Jon Favreau.
What a terrific film. The Jungle Book gets it right all the way, with plenty for fans of Rudyard Kipling and plenty for fans of the original cartoon movie. This is a visual wonder and great family entertainment. Highly recommended.