Despite being sold as a live action film, Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” is a beautiful animated remake of a classic animated movie. Yes, little Mowgli is clearly played by a live action boy and there are some real props to be found, but this is a movie where the animals are all animated and the backgrounds and scenery look like some of the most beautiful Thomas Kinkaid paintings you will ever see. Disney is selling this as a live action remake, but Favreau clearly was taken in with how much freedom animation gives a film maker, so he has crafted an excellent art piece right under everyone’s nose. If the marketing team think calling this thing real will help sell it better…well good for them I suppose, but most people will know better.
For me personally, the thing that made “The Jungle Book” work so well was how unrealistic[italiazed] it purposefully felt. This is a movie that feels like a dream to watch as the camera soars over, around, and through the jungle our (mostly) animal cast members find themselves in. In 3D the effect is even more beautiful, as we feel like the jungle surrounds and engulfs us. It’s enough to make us nod our head in emphasizing with Mowgli on why he wouldn’t want to leave this place in favor of ‘The Man Village.’ Alas, the boy must return to his own kind, as the man hating tiger Sher Khan (Idris Elba) has returned to the jungle, and has vowed to kill every animal that stands between him and the boy. In order to save his adoptive wolf family, Mowgli must selflessly leave.
On the journey to rejoin his own kind he meets various different friends, but chances are your favorite is likely to be Baloo the Bear. He is nothing more than a free spirit who loves to eat honey and sing songs. The fact that Bill Murray voices him is nothing short of sheer genius. He brings a playfulness to the role that I have not seen from him in a long time, yet he still possesses the acting chops to bring some emotion to the dramatic scenes. He also plays as a perfect foil to the stern (but wise) Bagheera, who is voiced elegantly by Ben Kingsley. The addition of Christopher Walken as giant orangutan King Louie might seem like stunt casting, but it does provide a few laughs for the adults. Aside from Murray the other stand out performance is the aforementioned Elba, who plays Sher Khan as something of a mix between a cunning mob boss as well as dedicated hunter.
Wrapping all this up is newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, who has the difficult task of having to talk to all these animals who aren’t there and react to scenery I’m more than positive largely didn’t exist. His natural interactions with everything and everyone helps sell “The Jungle Book.” If he didn’t work neither would the film. Now, there are times when the movie feels more like a visual movie than a story driven one. That seems to sadly be the case with most franchise films these days. Despite this, “The Jungle Book” mostly feels like a real throw back to when films were engaging and imaginative. It swept me away with a feeling of wonder that is so very rare these days. In terms of where this sits in Disney’s live action remake phase I believe this is above “Maleficent” but not quite as good as “Cinderella.” Still, this is a promising direction for these live action remakes to be taking, so I can forgive the small faults.