About an hour and forty minutes in to The Jungle Book, just around the time the film is reaching its fiery climax, I looked down the aisle and saw four or five kids on the edge of their seats, a few of them appeared to be losing their damn minds. That sums up the movie pretty well. Kids are going to love it, although I suspect it may be a tad dark and suspenseful for younger kids. I’m kind of ignorant on these matters, but my partner is a therapist and she says kids over 6 should be fine. Take that as you will. The Jungle Book is a visually sumptuous, thrilling, expertly voice-acted adventure that also happens to be a remake of the original Disney cartoon from 1967.
Truth be told, I’ve never seen the original. Or if I have, no memory of it exists in my mind. I’m aware of the song Bare (Bear?) Necessities song and that’s about as far as my knowledge of the original goes. So I went in to my screen of The Jungle Book with low to no expectations beyond the fact that I was eagerly anticipating just what director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man, Chef) was up to with this film. Turns out he’s up to quite a lot. Unlike the original, this version of The Jungle Book is live action. I really should qualify that this film is live action (with a real living person in what looks like a real jungle) with CGI animals, but I almost don’t want to. The CGI in this film is so stunning and expertly realized that it’s almost 100% photo-realistic. Parents will have some explaining to do when their kids ask why these animals talk and the real ones we see in the zoo don’t. That’s how good the CGI is. This is both a blessing and a curse.
The upside to how well rendered all these creatures are is that there’s no distracting cheesiness to the animated animals. They looks real and they look like they feel real. The only other films I can compare it to are Rise of the Planet of the Apes and especially Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but this film even surpasses those. The fur, the skin, the textures, they all pop and look like you could reach out and touch them, especially in 3D. The downside is that, at least for me, because everything looked so real, this created a different kind of relationship and expectation between myself and the onscreen characters.
When you watch The Lion King and Simba, on the run from his uncle, meets Timon and Pumba for the first time, you’re instantly endeared to them. And even though Simba really only gets 8 or 9 minutes of screen time alone with them, you feel their bond and believe that they’ve become great friends, even in a short amount of time. There’s a similar dynamic at play when Mowgli (Neel Sethi), also on the run, meets Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray). They meet, form a connection, and instantly are supposed to be best friends. They even have a song together that defines their relationship! I didn’t find myself connecting to them as strongly as I did/do Simba and Timon and Pumba. This could be a fault of the script or the acting I suppose, but I suspect that it has more to do with just how darn realistic the whole film looks. Can I really believe that a real human boy would be pals with a real talking bear? Maybe. This also might be the function of me as an adult watching this film with years of watching stuff like this animated rather than live action-ish. Kids today may not bat an eye.
Alongside Bill Murry you also have a stellar voice acting ensemble with Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o (when are we going to get to see her face again?), Scarlett Johansson, and Giancarlo Esposito. Oh, and Christopher Walken. Normally this is where I’d tell you that Christopher Walken stole the show or was a highlight of the film. Unfortunately for me he wasn’t. It’s not really Walken’s fault though. His scene didn’t really work for me because it’s one of two times in the film that they chose to use a song. Again, I think this is a thing that I can buy fairly easily in a cartoon, but in this live action setting it just didn’t play right to me. It felt like it was coming from a different movie.
Overall I quite enjoyed The Jungle Book. It’s super fun, and thrilling, and, again, it looks AMAZING. My only hang up was with the live action-ness of it all. Maybe on second viewing I would feel differently. I’m mostly convinced that it won’t make any difference to kids, the little ones in the screening I went to were having a ball. I’d be curious to hear what other adults think about this aspect of the film (you can tell me I’m wrong @RyanFerguson83 on the Twitter). The Jungle Books opens Friday, June 15th and is screening in both 2D and 3D. I would highly recommend the 3D for this one.