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Disney’s Live Action The Jungle Book: Best Adaptation Yet

April 19, 2016

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is returning audiences to the jungle with his live-action revamping of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved novel “The Jungle Book”. Since 1942, there have been more than a dozen film adaptations of the literary classic, from Disney’s well-remembered 1967 animated film to their ill-fated 1994 rendering. While the task of living up to both the expectations of longtime fans and modern audiences may have seemed insurmountable, Favreau was prepared, delivering a breathtaking adventure that may be the best on-screen imagining of “The Jungle Book” yet.

Like every previous incarnation, The Jungle Book follows the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a child raised by a pack of Indian jungle wolves. Trained in their ways, Mowgli yearns to become like the wolves he calls family. However, the damaged and violent tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) fears that the boy will bring death and destruction to the jungle and marks him for death. Forced to flee, Mowgli then embarks on a transformative adventure with the panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), encountering several other animals along the way including the bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) and the abnormally large “gigantopithecus” monkey King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken).

The CGI employed to create each and every animal in the film as well as the jungle itself is truly jaw-dropping. Favreau and VFX house Moving Picture’s (MPC) creation is the most beautiful movie world since 2009’s Avatar, luring the viewer in like the eyes of the hypnotic snake Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). While it would have been fairly effective and surely praiseworthy to merely craft the animals themselves, MPC has imbued the film with an abundance subtle of nuances from the flick of Shere Khan’s ear as a fly buzzes by it to the angry quivering of Bagheera’s lips when Mowgli disobeys him. The movie’s gorgeous nature is furthered even more by the beautiful cinematography captured by Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2), particularly in the second and third acts.

The Jungle Book’s cast is almost entirely exceptional. Kingsley brings a definite gravitas to the role of Bagheera and understands how best to portray the fatherly relationship he has with Mowgli. Murray delivers the fun and slightly aloof quality that a character like Baloo requires while also bringing great heart to the role that no previous actor has. The highlight, however, is Idris Elba’s terrifying performance as Shere Khan. The British performer’s gravelly voice is a perfect fit for the tiger, and Elba portrays the truly broken, complex nature of the villain expertly. The rest of the voice cast, particularly Lupita Nyong’o as Mowgli’s wolf mother Raksha and Scarlett Johansson as the treacherous snake Kaa, is terrific.

Unfortunately, there is a single somewhat weak link: Neel Sethi. Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli isn’t awful by any means, it’s just wildly inconsistent. At times, the child actor is incredibly effective, especially in his more dramatic scenes, but his skill in the realms of action and comedy needs some remedying. To be fair, this is likely due to the fact that Sethi is essentially acting to a tennis ball for the majority of the film, considering that each of his co-stars are CGI animals.

Aside from the oddly exposition-laden and distracting Kaa sequence, Justin Marks’ screenplay is focused and brings far more depth and raw emotion to this tale than any other writer since Kipling. Unlike the 1967 animation, this Jungle Book isn’t just a series of random events with the loosest of throughlines. This is a film chock full of meaningful relationships and an incredibly important message which Marks delivers with enough authenticity to make it not come off as overly forced or studio-mandated. The film’s conclusion is also a major improvement over the animation’s, fitting the tale far more.

The Verdict

Although its lead performance may be more than a little inconsistent, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is the best adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel yet, a beautifully crafted and shockingly nuanced film that manages to properly adapt the source material while also bringing new complexity and emotion to these beloved characters through a uniformly excellent voice cast and a focused script.

8.9/10

  • Truly breathtaking visual effects
  • Bill Pope’s gorgeous cinematography
  • Pitch-perfect vocal performances
  • Brings newfound emotion to a classic tale
  • Sethi is inconsistent as Mowgli

 

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