Disney has gone back to its earlier version of The Jungle Book and completely reanimated it. And I don’t mean just creating some new art; I mean they have breathed new life into an epic story.
Using computer animation, director Jon Favreau and his team have outdone themselves, creating a glorious, vibrant jungle. Each animal—and there are plenty of them—comes alive, and the jungle landscape is fantastic. All of this seamlessly meshes with the live action of young actor Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli. I had the ridiculous luxury of seeing the movie in IMAX 3D which, while it can sometimes be distracting, opens up this jungle world even more.
The young man-cub Mowgli has been raised by a pack of wolves as one of their own, and he’s been guided as he grows by the panther Bagheera. The great tiger Shere Khan catches the scent of a human, and he determines to exact his revenge for his painful history with humans by killing Mowgli.
Shere Khan, voiced by Idris Elba, is one of the most imposing and frightening animals ever animated. When he first came on the screen, I flashed back to the moment my family came uncomfortably close to a grizzly bear and her cubs on a hike. The sheer power of an enormous and threatening predator was suddenly very real on that hike, and viewers will have the same feeling with Shere Khan.
For a movie that features talking animals, the animations manage to maintain their animal-like quality. The bear Baloo maintains his likability but acts like a bear; likewise, the wolves act like wolves. Mowgli experiments with simple tools because he is different from the animals.
The only real departure from that realism is the slightly creepy and funny King Louie, an enormous orangutan who is perfectly voiced by the slightly creepy and funny Christopher Walken. Apparently Favreau so wanted to stick to some sort of realism that he based King Louie on a larger, extinct ancestor of orangutans. And while this Jungle Book is not so much a musical, it does include a couple of songs from the well-known Disney version. Walken sings “I Wanna Be Like You,” in which King Louie definitely gives off a Walken vibe.
Bill Murray is also a fitting choice for Baloo, bringing his laid-back, good-time persona to the lackadaisical bear.
This version of The Jungle Book could be frightening for the youngest viewers for the very reason that it is so effective; it looks so real. Those powerful animals are a true threat, which makes for very real stakes for young Mowgli. I saw the movie with kids ranging in age from 12-18, and they were all swept away by it, just as I was.
The Jungle Book is a great, modern family adventure based on an old, classic tale. (Disney)