Disney’s most recent live-action remake of a beloved animated features is incredible. I was skeptical when I first heard of another attempt to bring “The Jungle Book” to a live setting; after all, the 1994 version was very unmemorable with its animals that do not speak, the attempt to make it appear that Mowgli interacted with the animals without them ever actually being on screen at the same time, and the complete ignorance of Kipling’s original story. It was one thing to flesh out the “Cinderella” story with a deeper backstory and a human cast, but the complexity of how to portray the animals made this film seem like another idea. Luckily, this film is a perfect blend of live action, CGI, and motion capture. There are few moments in the film where you remember that none of the animals actually exist. A Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination seems inevitable. From the terror of Shere Kahn to the cuteness of Grey Brother, these animals are capable of a wide array of emotions. The story is darker and more complex than the 1967 animated film but the realism is tempered with comic relief and a series of morals. Interestingly, the story reflects a shift in perspective toward nature over the past 100 years. Rather than being something to be overcome, nature is now something to be protected. The main flaw of the film is that it is too long and complex for younger kids. Even though the content is entirely family friendly, I would not recommend this for children under the age of 8. Still, I find it to be an awesome film for adults and a great introduction to dramatic film for kids. When you initially look at the cast list, you have to wonder if all of the star power will be a distraction from the visual representations of each voice. With the exception of Christopher Walken (whose King Louie is purposely designed to look like and remind us of him, perhaps as a nod to the original Louie being reminiscent of Louis Prima), the talented voice actors enhance each character through the emotions deeply rooted in their voices. Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, and Scarlett Johansson with an inspired female interpretation of Kaa - could it possibly get any better than that? Most importantly, Neel Sethi is perfectly cast as Mowgli. He embodies both the physical characteristics that we associate with the animated version of Mowgli as well as the heart, curiosity, and gumption requires by the character. It is impossible to tell which stunts are real and which ones are animated, but the final product is stunning. His interactions with the characters are seamless and it is easy to see that he beat out thousands of other children for this role. I believe that people would have left the theater disappointed without the inclusion of "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You," but the musical numbers felt a bit out of place. I understand that director Jon Favreau did not want to turn this film into a musical. However, I believe that a film requires three songs in order for musical numbers to feel like they belong in a film and any less takes away their flow within the story. The songs created great moments of nostalgia but perhaps they should have included some of Scarlett Johansson's version of "Trust in Me" that occurred during the closing credits. I love that they including the musical theme from the animated film at the beginning and end of this remake as it sets the tone of Disney Magic for the entire film. The emotive musical score by John Debney enhances several key moments in the film that brought me to tears. This latest iteration of “The Jungle Book” should be the final one because it will be nearly impossible to improve upon the realism that this film has brought to Kipling’s powerful tale of family and friendship.
[Pictured: The realism of this film makes it a masterpiece]