What a beautiful piece of filmmaking this was and a breath of fresh air after the putrid stank I watched previously. The Jungle Book, originally written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894, has been looked at in recent years as having some fairly questionable if not outright racist subtext lingering underneath the words on the page and even the 1967 film had its character Louie the Ape singing almost to the tune of a minstrel song about how he wanted to become civilized. Fear not because director Jon Favreau has molded the material into a much more progressive and fun family-based entertainment while still remaining true to a lot of the original vision of Kipling.
If you don’t know the story of this film, do not worry: I will recap it for you. Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is a boy raised by wolves in the jungle and obeys their laws and even acts and moves like them. Meanwhile, Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is a vicious tiger who proclaims that the man-cub (Mowgli) will eventually become a man and men are sworn enemies to the jungle so they need to get rid of him now. Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the panther who originally found Mowgli, accompanies him to the man-village so that Khan can not reach him but instead Khan ends the life of someone close to Mowgli to force him to return and lure him to his death. Meanwhile, Mowgli meets up with a number of interesting characters such as a loveable bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a hypnotizing snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and a tyrant monkey, King Louis (Christopher Walken) as he battles with his feelings about remaining in the jungle or going back to his own kind in the village.
The actors chosen to do the voices for the characters were all pretty much spot-on. Bill Murray was definitely my favourite; they could not have chosen a better person to play the wonderful character of Baloo. Idris Elba has a terrific menacing voice and a commanding presence even when he’s simply playing a voice-only character; he terrified me as Shere Khan. Christopher Walken makes the King Louis character a lot more interesting than offensive such as he was in the animated film and is another one that commands the screen. Johnanssen’s role is very much blink-and-you’ll-miss-it but she seemed to nail the cadence of the evil snake quite well. Ben Kingsley fits the role of Bagheera very well and as my girlfriend even remarked, they kinda made him look like Kingsley in a way. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito have small roles as Mowgli’s “parents” but are also good. We also get some fun cameos from director Favreau himself, Sam Raimi, Russell Peters and the late Garry Shandling.
The person that really stands out though is newcomer Neel Sethi who plays the title role of Mowgli. This is the kid’s feature film debut and the fact that he essentially acted all by himself alongside things to represent the later CGI creations is quite a feat in itself. It is not a flawless performance but for a first-timer it is very impressive. Not to mention the acting and emotional side of things but also this kid went through some tough physical situations. Mowgli jumps around in the trees, swings, fights with animals and is almost constantly on the move. I can only hope for big things for this kid in the future if he managed to handle a role like this with aplomb.
Jon Favreau can do no wrong as a director in my eyes. To go from Made to Elf to Iron Man to this is a real testament to the versatility he possesses as a filmmaker. Favreau employed a wonderful cinematographer as well as every shot is beautiful and meaningful. Nothing feels extraneous or done for the sake of showing off or anything like that. Everything is seamless and feels important in connection with the plot. The CGI itself is a real treat. The animals all seem as realistic as humanly possible including the actual moving of their mouths when they speak. In fact, this film has set a new standard for CGI that I think will be tough to match. Not since the days of Jurassic Park have I ever seen a film that used CGI in such a wonderful, flawless way that everything will now be compared to it for years to come. If you want to get an idea of how impactful that is, look back at the aforementioned Jurassic Park for a moment. That STILL holds up today.
Oh… and don’t worry. You will get to hear “The Bare Necessities.”
It’s a simply amazing film that I honestly couldn’t find one problem with throughout its entire runtime. Watch it; you owe it to yourself. I should also note that the audience sat in silence for much of the film. This is not a “bored” silence but rather a stunned kind of awe-inspiring reaction. Even the kids were quiet and that never happens in family movies at the theatre! Everyone was so transfixed by this film and you will be as well. Watch it!
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)