By Jack Dignan
With the live action remake of The Jungle Book finally out in theatres today, it's time to forget about your worries and your strife. When it comes to live action Disney remakes, they can go one of two ways. They can go the Maleficent route and become one big steaming mess, or they can go the Cinderella route and become a charming and likeable movie that matches the original. The Jungle Book, thankfully, does not turn out like Maleficent did. It doesn't even turn out like Cinderella did. It became its own thing, adapting and playing around with the original for a film that's just as good, if not better.
Directed by Jon Favreau, this new incarnation of The Jungle Book, based on both the original novel and Disney movie, ambitiously retells the story of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a young kid living in the jungle with a pack of wolves. When a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) approaches the pack, threatening to kill Mowgli, he's forced to go on the run, a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsly) leading him to a local human village. After the two are separated, Mowgli runs into Baloo (Bill Murray), a fun loving bear who teaches him the perks of living in the jungle and makes for an unforgettable friendship.
Disney's 1967 Jungle Book is a fun little movie. It's neither their best, nor worst movie, but it's got just enough famous songs and vibrant animation to make it a contender for the word "classic." In fact, many would deem it a classic, so this new iteration has a lot to live up to, and personally, I think it matches, if not exceeds the original. It takes the themes and basic plot elements of the film, mashes it together with the book and creates something that feels fresh, but is also really not. You've seen The Jungle Book, but you haven't seen THIS Jungle Book. It's a bold, brave, heartfelt and entertaining piece of cinema that stands out amongst the many Disney remakes we've received as of late.
While I have some problems with the storytelling in the original film, particularly with the ending, this new version managed to spin the narrative around, making something that works on its own, but also shows a lot of respect to the source materials. Without delving into spoilers, I was very worried about how they were going to wrap things up, as, like I just said, the original's ending left me dissatisfied. Trust me, the ending to this film is something rather special. It's a moving and emotional conclusion that left me with a delighted smile on my face.
In terms of visuals, it's certainly hard to outdo the scale and realism brought forth by John Favreau, who has created photorealistic CGI animals.... that talk. The realism presented in this film is honestly rather overwhelming, constantly getting me to ask myself the question, "how the hell did they make this movie?" While Avatar used motion capture to create its world, The Jungle Book couldn't quite use the same method as all but one of its characters are animals, yet they've created landscapes that feel authentic, with animals that look like they belong there. It's jaw dropping.
You can have cool visuals, but without an entertaining story and suitable voice work, the film would just fall flat. The Jungle Book certainly does not fall flat. The narrative is engaging, and the cast are perfect. Bill Murray's Baloo is a crowd pleasing highlight, providing the film with heart and Murray's typical sense of humour, and no, this humour isn't always toned down to 100% appeal to children, either. His interpretation of Baloo is spot on, his interactions with Mowgli a joy to watch, and I sure do hope Neel Sethi goes places in life because he was great in this film.
To sum up, The Jungle Book is a big, bold, ambitious and visually appealing reiteration of the classic story that takes what makes the original so great, refurbishes it and makes it into something worthy of the name 'Jungle Book.' John Favreau, I'm proud of you.