Four out of five stars
Summary : Strong technical talents anchor a strong adapted story (sans some musical numbers) and a well cast voice cast where the realistic talking animals take center stage among exotic settings.
This live-action/computer generated image (CGI) remake of 1967 Disney animated feature of the same name, which is based on the classic Rudyard Kipling novel, impresses with well-staged visuals, compelling action sequences, and impressive development within the plot and character. The impressive, award worthy special effects makes the animals’ talking believable, while the stunt people and set designers deserve equal credit for great results.
Originally released on home video in late August and Netflix in November, The Jungle Book recently released in a special 3D version along with another Disney visual treasure, Star Wars Episode VI: The Force Awakens. This reviewed version was the DVD plus Blu-ray with digital copy redemption code.
Lead actor Neel Sethi plays the young, “man cub” Mowgli. He navigates through a wide range of emotions well while impressing audiences with his stunt work and his growth without any human contact. His main struggles revolve around fitting into this animal world, and he takes on huge physical demands. Sethi always seems to be running throughout the natural jungle surroundings. Mowgli’s largely positive impact and ingenuity stems from the wolf pack and wise panther who raise him.
Seeonee Indian wolf Raksha, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and her pack, led by Akela the wolf, well voiced by Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects and TV’s Once Upon a Time, Breaking Bad). The stately Ben Kingsley voices Bagheera who guides Mowgli through the jungle while taking huge risks to keep him safe.
All the animals gather into some semblance of a community at the main water source during a truce. This occasional truce occurs naturally due to the high water conditions. Idris Elba (Zootopia, Beasts of No Nation) arrives on the scene here as the film’s antagonist Shere Khan, a scarred tiger with lots of backstory and motivation for his actions. Elba’s performance invokes the necessary fear and emotion for a truly engaging narrative written by budding screenwriter Justin Marks who is currently working on this film’s sequel.
Bill Murray’s bass-filled voice and comedic timing works perfect for Baloo the sloth bear. His dialogue, timing, and overall appeal gives audiences a calm, fun character to compliment, support, and sometimes challenge Mowgli. Scarlett Johansson’s deep raspy voice is a great fit for Kaa the large python snake. She makes the best out of her limited screen time.
Christopher Walken really impresses as giant ape (a.k.a. Gigantopithecus) King Louie who represents a key challenge for Mowgli and a key turning point in Baloo’s character development. Garry Shandling voices an Indian crested porcupine named Ikki, while some elephant characters also make a splash in this engaging story.
Filmmakers cut down on the music, but still include the memorable “Bare Necessities” (Sethi’s lacking voice can be overlooked while Murray is very strong) and “I Wanna Be Like You” (Walken does pretty well in his showcase).
Director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man) displays impressive command, especially during the action sequences. He keeps the camera moving with the right amount of transition, framing, and scene soaking stills. His family even gets into the act as son Max voices a young wolf and daughter Madeleine voices a rhino while Favreau himself voices Fred, a Pygmy hog along with fellow director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Oz the Great and Powerful) who gets to be a giant squirrel. Favreau also contributes an audio commentary track that’s full of great information, exciting details and special references.
The visuals are amazingly sharp while the audio features a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that’s also available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish or French dubs plus English, French and Spanish text subtitle options.
The main bonus feature, “The Jungle Book Reimagined”, provides quality inside for 35 minutes featuring the director, several main actors and, thankfully, several crew members including VFX supervisor Robert Legato.
The 8-minute “I Am Mowgli” feature showcases the young lead Sethi while the 3-minute “King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer” unpeels the “I Wanna Be Like You” song. More bonus features, especially about the visual effects, would have been great, but what’s there is high quality…get the 3D version for those additional bonus features (five total).
The Jungle Book succeeds thanks to a great crew and cast who optimize the exotic settings with stellar effects and other technical wonders. Highly recommended and rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.
A great capstone in a year filled with successful animal-themed movies Zootopia, Finding Dory, and The Secret Lives of Pets. It’s going to be a challenge for the upcoming competing Jungle Book film, directed by Andy Serkis, to equal this film’s success and emotional impact.
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