Overview: A marvelous retelling of Walt Disney Studios’ musical take on The Jungle Book based in part on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collected works. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; 2016; Rated PG; 105 minutes.
An Animated Classic Revisited: Director Jon Favreau’s task in re-adapting The Jungle Book for Walt Disney Studios in the twenty-first century was no easy or enviable task. Taking obvious musical cues, set pieces, and thematic inspiration from the classic Disney cartoon of 1967, Favreau has recast the hand drawn work of the past into a fully-realized digital world teeming with life despite its overt cinematic trickery. Developed entirely on soundstages in Los Angeles, The Jungle Book is a wonder to behold, as first-time actor Neel Sethi’s work with entirely imaginary creatures beyond the realm of his own sight and imagination captivates and inspires. There are no actual beasts of the jungle in Favreau’s latest work, but much like his past work within the realm of family films in Elf and Zathura, his wholesome vision capably dances the tight wire between clichéd sentimentality and earned pathos, even as his latest production overtly fabricates many of its chief sources of emotional resonance.
Breaking New Ground: It’s easy to make the comparison between the computer generated graphics used in Favreau’s The Jungle Book with the special effects wizardry on display in director James Cameron’s much maligned science-fiction epic Avatar from 2009, and with good reason. Each film attempts to tell a grand melodrama almost exclusively through the use of cutting edge technological achievement in visual storytelling, with the actual stars of the film being creatures of stunningly superficial achievement. But where Cameron always felt more enthralled with the visual majesty of his highly fantastical vistas, Favreau is more intrigued by the characters that each of his animated characters is meant to represent. Granted, the line is still thin between reality and dramaturgy in each feature, yet the level of believability imbued into Favreau’s The Jungle Book thanks in no small part to the monumental charm and appeal brought to the screen by Sethi offers something far more engaging on an immediate human level than any of the work brought to bear in Cameron’s misguided adolescent wet dream.
Wholesome and Heartfelt: Perhaps the greatest virtue of Favreau’s The Jungle Book comes in the level of integrity brought to bear throughout the entire production’s earnest intention. Behind each and every computer generated animal face lies the heart of the actor who brings the character to life, which lends much of the tender sweetness to movie as a whole. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not even the slightest bit touched by Bill Murray’s subtle turn as Baloo the brown bear, or Ben Kingsley’s paternal warmth brought to the otherwise conventional Bagheera the black panther. And Christopher Walken’s rendition of the 1967 original song, “I Wanna Be Like You,” as King Louie the stately orangutan is a truly stirring high point that cements Favreau’s The Jungle Book as an entirely wholesome and heartfelt film not to be missed.
Overall: Favreau’s The Jungle Book tells a familiar story for a new generation through the near exclusive use of cutting edge computer generated imagery while managing to still deliver a timeless coming of age story to please viewers of all ages.