Many of our childhoods are defined by our favorite Disney cartoons, whether it’s “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella,” “Hercules” or “Aladdin.” And in a world where no classic is deemed too sacred for a remake, many of our childhood films are being reinterpreted into live-action blockbusters, often with a much darker twist.
In this respect, “The Jungle Book” is a refreshing bit of nostalgia, bringing the world of the 1967 classic to a new generation with gorgeous visuals, while staying true to the original sense of adventure and self-discovery — although I’m convinced that “Mowgli: Witch Hunter” wouldn’t do badly at the box office either.
For any outcasts that were deprived of the original film in their childhood, “The Jungle Book” follows the man cub, Mowgli, raised in the jungle by a panther and a wolf pack. As the jungle becomes unsafe for the boy, he must embark on a journey to discover who he really is, with the help of a rather irresponsible bear and other, less benevolent characters.
The live-action adaptation stays true overall to the original tale, but also takes the liberty to divert from it in small ways, making the whole experience feel fresh and faithful.
Despite these little diversions, the film keeps the tone of the original feature remarkably intact, leading the audience to once again feel the wonder or adventure or fear that was felt when they first watched the original (I was reminded of my undying hatred for those creepy monkeys as a kid).
But the film also mistakenly relies too much on this sense of nostalgia, assuming all its viewers have a close familiarity with the story. Because of this, “The Jungle Book” rushes past any initial character development and reduces many of the greatest moments of the original to clever hints.
Above all, one aspect of the movie is immediately obvious: it is an absolutely gorgeous film. From every tensing muscle of the massive tiger to the vibrant flowers and flying insects of the jungle, it is clear that the film’s creators have paid a remarkable amount of attention to every detail of the environment.
In fact, the CGI effects of the animals are so frighteningly realistic that it’s a bit disorientating when a wolf or a monkey or a porcupine begins to talk, and you may find yourself in need of constant reminders that this jungle does not play by the rules of reality.
Fortunately, thanks to the spectacular cast of voice actors, these reminders are in large supply and help quickly accustom the audience. From Idris Elba’s intimidating growl as Shere Kahn the tiger to Ben Kingsley’s reassuring guidance as the panther, Bagheera, every animal character is given a distinct and clear personality in the story. Even Christopher Walken’s thick New York accent that has no place in the jungle somehow works when spoken through the mouth of an overgrown, mischievous orangutan.
Overall, “The Jungle Book” delivers on its promise to bring to life the classic animated film through the use of beautiful visual effects, all the while balancing small reinterpretations with faithful care for the original tone.
“The Jungle Book” is directed by Jon Favreau and stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi as Mowgli.