Jon Favreau is one of the best and most underrated filmmakers working today, in my opinion. You’ve probably seen a few of his films, and you probably love the ones you’ve seen. Allow me to list his most notable credentials: Elf, Iron Man, Chef, and Cowboys & Aliens. Yes indeed, he has an impressive resume; however, you probably don’t know his name. I would say, then, that now is a good time to take note of this talent.
With his latest release, The Jungle Book, Favreau has set out to reimagine Disney’s classic cartoon telling of the story and also pioneer new territory in the realm of CGI. It’s an ambitious film on multiple levels-a huge undertaking for even the most seasoned director. And once again, Jon Favreau has knocked it out of the park.
The Jungle Book is one of the best films to come out so far this year, easily. It is a visual marvel to behold, and is thus also an incredible technical achievement. Not only is it both of those things, though, but it is also a fun adventure for (mostly) the whole family.
While I am usually not a sucker for special effects-I believe firmly believe story is the key to a film-I do feel that to understand and appreciate the level of excellence that is achieved with this film, one must first understand just how technically groundbreaking it is. Every single animal and setting was created inside of a computer. The only non-CGI object in this film (with a few minor exceptions, I’m sure) is the child actor who plays Mowgli. Everything else, from the lovable bear Baloo to the breathtaking jungle landscape, is computer generated imagery. That means that, while shooting, it was simply a green/blue screen. Knowing that, it is impossible for an audience to not be blown away by what they see onscreen. If you didn’t know this, then you would be perfectly justified in assuming that the film was somehow shot in a jungle with talking animals added in later. The landscape looks that realistic. Furthermore, the animals are as real as I’ve ever seen CGI animals in a film. This is easily the best CGI animal work done since 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and even more real than the animals created in that film. It truly is just an amazing sight to see when you know what’s behind it.
Moving on, we must talk about the star of the show, and that is newcomer Neel Sethi. This is the young actor’s debut in a feature film, and I do believe he will be onscreen well beyond his adolescence. This young man gives an amazing performance, especially for a child actor. What’s even more impressive is that everything he interacts with was not present when he was filmed. Again, knowing the technical side of this movie makes everything all the more amazing. Sethi acted against nothing but green/blue screens, a feat that most adult actors have trouble pulling off (look no further than the Star Wars prequels for proof of that). Despite this limitation, however, he gives a completely genuine portrayal of Mowgli that is easily relatable and lovable. I cannot give this boy enough praise for his amazing work.
Aside from our single live performer, we have an A-list voice cast. Among a very impressive list of names-from Scarlett Johanssen to Christopher Walken-there were three real standouts for me: Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera, Idris Elba as the tiger Shere Khan, and last but certainly not least Bill Murray as the bear Baloo. Kingsley provides a wise father figure for Mowgli in Bagheera, someone who he can look up to for guidance and wisdom. Meanwhile, Elba’s Shere Khan is the best onscreen villain of 2016 so far. His menacing voice behind the behemoth of a cat legitimately frightened me; every time he was onscreen, I was afraid of what he was going to do. This is due to Elba’s superb voice work, which is indeed chilling, and also to the realism of the tiger itself. Even so, however, one particular character stole the show: Baloo. This is some of Bill Murray’s best work in years, and he’s not even seen onscreen. His voice for the bear creates a character that an audience can easily fall in love with. He has a healthy of dose of youthful energy, which comes with both some innocence and a fun, rebellious nature. I completely understood why Mowgli wanted to stay with Baloo for as long as he could, because I did too!
Someone else I must give credit to is the composer of the film’s score, John Debney. Debney doesn’t have a particularly notable list of credits, although it is long. His work here, though, is top notch. There was one particular piece of music that I instantly started listening to in the car on the way home. He captures the sense of awes, fun, and adventure felt throughout the entire film. It’s magnificent.
As I said, this is easily one of the best films of the year. I think anyone would have a hard time not enjoying this movie. I will caution families, though; while it is marketed as a “family friendly” PG film, it does have some frightening moments that probably won’t bode well for audience members below eight or nine. Other than that, though, there is no reason to not take the whole family out to this one! I believe it will leave parents and children satisfied. Furthermore, I think fans of the original Disney cartoon will very pleased with this live action update. Simply put…
Drop everything and go see this movie now!