By: Bailey Hart
Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book continues the somewhat unnerving trend of live-action adaptations of classic Disney animated films. As such, any viewer’s interpretation with a history as a Disney fan is largely subject to be affected by ‘nostalgia glasses’, and so it may be more difficult to adequately judge such an adaptation without resorting to unrelenting praise. Keeping that in mind, I walked into Jungle Book with few expectations besides the high filmmaking quality I’ve personally come to expect from director Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame, and I am more than happy to say that his adaptation takes all expectations for rushed Disney remakes and successfully blows them out of the water.
The visual language of Jungle Book is Avatar-esque both in respect to its epic immensity and sheer detail and believability, so much so that it’s hard to believe that it was filmed entirely on location in a closed set in downtown Los Angeles. The environment teems with the beautiful complexities of both the varied ecosystem of an Indian jungle and the wide variety of wildlife; every tiny or large instance rendered was almost eerily realistic. What’s particularly amazing about this presentation is how well Favreau and his voice actors fill each and every animal represented in Jungle Book with convincing character and heart.
Despite having an apparent hard time understanding segments of his own character’s dialogue, young actor Neel Sethi more than adequately portrays Mowgli; the most impressive aspect of his performance as the only main human actor in the film rests entirely on the audience’s emotional sense that Sethi really is interacting with the nonpresent creatures around him. Major credit is due to either Sethi or Favreau for the extent to which this trick is pulled off. I’m amazed with how seamlessly this film draws one into its universe, so much so that I found myself completely forgetting the arduous filmmaking process in exchange for complete awe and submission to the universe that Jungle Book presents.
Jungle Book’s fascination with closeups of eyes and faces does not go underutilized either, and the emotional result is incomparable to anything other than the character designs of Pixar/Disney joint films, combined with immensely detailed and realistic animal designs. I can only imagine the large amount of susceptible kids who leave this film feeling a bit more environmental, incessantly asking their parents on the car ride home when they can go to the zoo next.
Let’s also not forget the impressive voice acting here, featuring the likes of Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and most recognizably Christopher Walken and Bill Murray as King Louie and Baloo, respectively (rest assured, Disney fans — Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You are both present in all of their jazzy and nostalgic glory). Watching the film, it’s almost hard to believe that anything other than exactly what we see on the screen was involved in the process of voice recording, as the actors bring life and character to already convincing visual representations. These modern interpretations of the classic Disney characters are consistently a bit darker, a bit more flawed, and a bit more human than the characters many of us already know and love. Tim Burton should take notes — Jungle Book proves that its possible to do a darker adaptation of a well-loved story without sacrificing what made the original so influential.
To watch Jungle Book is to be reminded of the magic of movies. I had flashbacks to being a young boy watching E.T. or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the very first time, ergo, films that leave a lasting impact, and that have the potential to amaze, terrify, and enthrall viewers of all ages and levels of cinematic experience. In my very humble and very unprofessional opinion, Jungle Book is thus far the greatest wide-release film of 2016. See it in IMAX if you can, but hell, see it in 2D, pay extra to see it in 3D at Marquee, rent it from Redbox in a few months, whatever, just see it.