The Jungle Book (dir. Jon Favreau), is pretty much the gritty reboot of the original 1967 animated movie. Honestly, though, that’s not a bad thing.
For the people who have never seen either movies, The Jungle Book follows the adventures of Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi), the “man-cub” that has been raised by wolves after being found by Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley). After a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) discovers this, he vows to kill Mowgli, due to his hatred of men. What follows is an adventure through the jungle as Bagheera and Baloo the bear (Bill Murray) try to return him back to the man village.
First of all, this movie is a visual treat. From the first second into the movie, I could not for the life of me figure out what was computer and what was real. This is the movie’s greatest strength. When you’re looking at animals talking to each other, you know they’re fake and yet you can’t help but believe they’re real. They look and behave just like how animals should except for the fact that they talk. In fact, as I watched Bagheera interact with the world, I couldn’t help but think of my own cats and how they acted. It was uncanny. Even how they fought other animals.
The cinematography is simply a wonder to behold. You feel like you are Mowgli running through the jungle. I whole heartedly believe that this movie will most likely get a academy nomination. You feel every hit and every shot is breathtaking.
As further proof of the power of the visuals in the movie, I actually wanted to know more about the animals. They seem to have so much history and we’re given a lot of information that Mowgli, the main character, doesn’t know. Yet, there are certainly things left unanswered. How do Bagheera and Baloo know each other? What exactly is the nature of their relationship? Why would Akela take in a man-cub to be part of the pack and protect him so fiercely? How does Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) hypnotize people like she does?
These questions only add to the mythos and yes it is now a mythos in my mind. These characters take on a fantastic and mythological standing and the less we know about them, the more we want to know about them. The only character we actually know about in detail is Shere Khan. A fascinating story to be sure but I hope we have more stories in the future.
The only bad thing about this movie is the rather strange and awkward singing number from King Louie (Christopher Walken). Of course, he sings the song “I Wanna Be Like You,” because it’s the Jungle Book and you need this song. Actually you don’t. The song you need is “The Bare Necessities,” which is woven in quite well. It serves more as character development between Mowgli and Baloo. “I Wanna Be Like You,” however, comes out of nowhere and is just bizarre. King Louie was more or less introduced in a rather threatening light and to have him suddenly break out into song is just a complete 180. It’s jarring and I found myself scratching my head at the absurdity of it.
That is just one bad thing in a movie that I had a great time watching. It’s fun but also dark, which works for the fairy tale theme, which this is. This is absolutely a fairy tale and if you remember, fairy tales have darkness. They are absolutely intense, but they are also fun adventures with happy endings. The Jungle Book is the epitome of fairy tale made into the visual medium.