By Christian DiMartino
Finally, a good movie. Scratch that: an excellent one.
After nearly a month of painful mediocrity, an excellent film has arrived in the form of The Jungle Book, Jon Faverau’s extremely impressive visual marvel that not only respects its source material, but also more than justifies its existence.
We’ve gotten a lot of live-action reboots of Disney classics over the years. Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Mirror Mirror… none of those really worked for me. The only one that did work is Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, and guess what: The Jungle Book is even better than that one. But yet both have just the right amount of visual dazzle needed.
The film is damn near all CGI, except for newcommer Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli. Now, on the surface, his performance may not seem like much. But actually, it really is. To converse, interact, run with, and be surrounded by imagination is simply not as easy at it looks, and it’s no wonder: he handles it like a pro.
Ben Kingsley does the voice of Bagheera, who rescued Mowgli when he was a baby, and brought him to a wolfpack to be raised. They raised him, and treated him like he was one of them and what not. But… there’s trouble. Shere Khan (voiced to devilish perfection by Idris Elba), a giant tiger, wants Mowgli dead (the reason why is explained in a flashback). So, in order to keep his family safe, Mowgli goes on the run, in which he encounters the enchanting snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the giant orangutan King Louis (Christopher Walken), and a charming bear named Baloo (Bill Murray).
If I haven’t stressed this, allow me: The Jungle Book is a visual wonder to behold. It’s utterly gorgeous. Please, see this in a theatre. You won’t soon regret it. But yet the triumph of The Jungle Book goes further than that. All of the voicework is dead on, especially Murray, who probably gives his best performance in years (sad to say it, but did you see Aloha or Rock the Kasbah?)
The Disney film from 1967 is obviously a beloved classic, and Faverau knows and understands this, and gives us just what we want. Hearing Murray sing “The Bear Necessities” is enough to lift the spirits for a day, and then you get to Walken singing “I Wan’na Be Like You.” I felt like I was dreaming. It was awesome.
But yet when you think back on that animated film, and then look at this one, they’re actually quite the same, but yet the approach of this one is different. That film was more upbeat. This one is darker, but yet it still manages to do what the previous film did. I also didn’t think I’d ever describe The Jungle Book as “badass,” but I can’t think of another word. Because it is badass.
Four stars for The Jungle Book sounds insane on paper, but there isn’t really a place to find fault. I honestly didn’t know that Faverau had it in him. This is such a remarkable achievement, to say the least. I too am not totally on board with these live-action revamps, but if they can be as good as The Jungle Book, then my skepticism can piss off.