by Scott Tennant
In the weeks coming up to the release of Disney’s The Jungle Book, I was not sure what to expect. The CGI in the trailer was admittedly good, but the voices that I know so well combined with the shots of the animals was sort of off-putting. In my cynical nature, I also thought that a remake of The Jungle Book was unnecessary. I’m pleased to admit that I was wrong. Jon Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book is an absolute triumph of family cinema, and is the best CGI filmmaking I have ever seen.
It can’t be overstated just how good the CGI was. Easily the most visually impressive Disney movie I have ever seen (including the Pixar films). While watching some of the scenes of wolves or baboons running through the landscape, the thought crossed my mind about how impressive the camerawork was to get these scenes of animals in nature. I quickly snuffed out that idea, but the point stands that it looks incredibly realistic. I was concerned about falling into the “uncanny valley” with the animals talking and the CGI being so realistic but it did not make me uncomfortable at all. The voicework was incredible and it felt almost natural. Between Idris Elba’s menacing tiger Shire Khan, Bill Murray’s friendly bear Baloo, and ScarJo’s hypnotic jungle boa Kaa, the voiceovers were all extremely fitting and impressive (though my personal favorite was Christopher Walken’s King Louie, the impressively large leader of the baboons). All of this adds up for a total package that draws the viewer into this jungle alongside Mogli for a wild ride.
The story is very solid, and can appeal to all ages. It is about family & belonging, but these themes are not overbearing and the movie is mostly focused on being fun. A movie like this could easily become overly political and focused on sending a particular message (looking at you Avatar), and the skeptic in me expected that, but the movie is fun, positive, and avoids getting bogged down in subtext like that.
Many of the side characters are humorous but never dominate the screen. In one scene early in the film, animals of all different species come together. The story does not touch the vast majority of these very minor characters, but if you focus on the little things they are saying, there are some very funny lines. The movie does not linger on these, but they are still there for the astute viewer. Classic songs from The Jungle Book return both in the film itself and in the end credits (which were awesome, I highly recommend staying to watch). Walken’s song in the movie was the standout, Murray’s rendition of “Bear Necessities” was not remarkable. It was fun and jovial, which is very important for that song, but the singing itself was not impressive. I was legitimately captivated by Walken’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You”.
But that is a very, very minor qualm with this breathtaking movie. This is my favorite family film in a long time… maybe since Toy Story 3. Go see it, in the theaters; some movies are “theater films”, where watching in theaters adds a lot to the experience. The CGI is so dazzling that I it is worth the trip. Even I found myself wishing that I saw it in 3D at parts, and I am very disinterested in 3D.