Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Jungle Book - Movie Review: Old School Disney with Modern Flare

Classic Disney storytelling merged with cutting edge filmmaking technology brilliantly
The Jungle Book starring Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murry, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, and directed by Jon Favreau. The movie is based off the classic Richard Kipling book and the 1967 Disney animated film. It tells the story of a boy who is raised by wolves, but forced to leave the pack because a fierce tiger is hunting him. The older animated film is a Disney classic and is beloved by many. Remaking it was a gamble, which for me, and it looks like many others it paid off remarkably well.
First let me say I don’t remember every watching the original Jungle Book animated movie. I think I have seen it, but that just could be images from hours of watching the Disney channel growing up. I also have never read the classic book. This is my first complete Jungle Book experience that I can remember. I’m not sure how much the story followed the original version, but I’m going to guess fairly closely.  There are shot for shot remakes in this from some of the most iconic scenes from the classic version. Favreau pulls this off with perfection. This feels like a classic Disney animated movie, but with CG and live action. I was glued to the story and beauty on the screen for the entire runtime of the film.
Going in I knew the film was entirely shot on stages in Hollywood. I was looking to try and pick out the CG from the real. I was able to do it at first, because I was focusing on it. After I became engrossed in the story the difference blended away and I was just watching a good movie. The technology used in this movie is simply remarkable. All of the animals look real, and you believe they are talking with Mowgli. This is helped along with all of the fantastic voice talent used for the film. Idris Elba is terrifying as Shere Khan. Ben Kingsley is wise as Bagheera, and Bill Murray, who I was worried about, was perfect as Baloo and adds the right amount of comic relief for the movie. I’m not sure if Bare Necessities was a great song in this movie, but it wasn’t horrible either.
There isn’t much negatively I can say about the film other than it seemed rushed at points. I think the movie may have needed an extra ten to fifteen minutes to flesh out the story just a bit more. For example there is a part where Bagheera tells Baloo that Mowgli will only listen to him. In the framework of the movie this wasn’t established enough to be believable. It was starting to be established, but more was needed to cement the idea that Mowgli and Baloo were the best of friends. In the long run it is a very small nitpick, and the movie needs to be on the shorter side to keep kids engaged. Some might take issue with Neel Sethi performance, and at times his line delivery wasn’t perfect, but overall for me it was solid. It’s his first performance, and for not having the any actual animals or people to act against, he did a great job.
Maybe younger children can do better with these types of roles. Their imaginations work in such a way that it is easier for them to perform when acting on a green screen than it is for adults. Sethi’s performance could have easily been wooden, stiff, and unbelievable having to act entirely on sound stages and not in an actual jungle, but it wasn’t. His performance coupled with how Favreau shot the film blended the CG and real world almost seamlessly. You can tell if you really look, but the story is told in such a way that you forget to keep looking.
The film has heart in its story and in the effort in took to make. This is both a love letter to classic Disney films, with an eye towards new ways to make movies. This is a movie that must be seen in theaters. See it if you have kids, though I would hold off if your children are under five. Some of the scenes could be frightening for younger kids. Shere Khan would have scared me as a kid. See the movie if you don’t have kids. It will take anyone back to watching Disney films when they were children. Jungle Book is simply a good time at the movies, go see it.
Let me know if you have seen Jungle Book and what you thought of it. If you haven’t seen it will you go to the theater and watch with the positive reviews it’s getting? 

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