Modernizing the Childhood Favorite, “The Jungle Book”

by Tyler Roaix

In this age of film production, we seem to be given one reboot after another. In nearly every instance, we allow ourselves to build hope to a point where it can never be matched. That is not the case for “The Jungle Book,” reinvented for 2016 by director, Jon Favreau, who knows just how to mix the heavy blows with the light touch. It is a little more reminiscent of the jungle and the book than the 1967 Disney classic. It’s much, much darker and yet ultimately as exuberant, with a surprisingly strong and novel message at its heart, in a story that already didn’t lack them.

There is no “boy found in a basket on a boat” stuff here. We meet Mowgli (Neel Sethi) at age 10 and already finding himself struggling with the wolf life. While his wolf pack is as accommodating as ever, a “water truce” which was called due to a drought – bringing all the animals together in peace to a sole watering hole – leads him to the attention of the other animals in the jungle. Most are just curious, but Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is furious.

Sethi is terrific as the character of Mowgli, whose frame and stance eerily echo those of his animated predecessor, while Bill Murray and Christopher Walken lend loose appeal and mobster menace respectively to the vocal roles of Baloo and King Louie. As Shere Khan, Elba scares. As Kaa, Scarlett Johansson seduces. From the opening chase, it’s clear that we’re not going to be short-changed in terms of running, swinging and falling action. Even more impressive is the balance between threat, emotion, comedy and uncertainty.

Along with the story itself, the visual effects in the film will leave viewers nothing short of dazzled. Favreau, along with screenwriter Justin Marks and hundreds of crew members created an inviting world for the characters to immerse themselves within. Streams trickle over weathered stones. We see frogs and the dew and the drooping ferns. The incredible CGI rendering of real-life animals from a 12-story building in Los Angeles is evidence of the effort put into this project. This may be the best computer-generated animated film in years.

For all of “The Jungle Book’s” innocence and sun-streaked patches of ground, however, there are shadows here, too. It takes several turns into the sinister, offering up images of terror and despair that may come to surprise the adults and flat-out frighten the younger viewer.

But this most certainly is a Disney film, complete with memorable songs like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” You leave with knowing that the movie and director think highly of the much-loved childhood story but also treat it with the growing maturity of an adult.

This wasn’t an easy movie to develop, with each shot reportedly taking two weeks to animate. Favreau and his army of technicians have truly created something magical. In a film that will bring you from tears to the edge of your seat, this will definitely reach the hype, no matter how high you set the bar.