I will not associate this version of The Jungle Book with any of its previous adaptations. That way I want to take out any nostalgia associated with it and be able to review it in a level-headed manner. Once I do that, I realize that it becomes and even more sensational watch for what it is. I was simply blown away by its power. It has to be asserted that Jon Favreau takes a very grown up take on the story and fills it with thrilling action and some breathtaking moments which is not for the faint of heart. The film not only captures the essence of the story but adds a resplendent freshness to it which doesn’t let the film be repetitive or painstakingly true to its previous adaptations.
The film starts off with Mowgli (Neel Sethi), an orphan who is growing up with a pack of wolves in the jungle. He is overlooked by a Panther and a loving mother in the form of a Wolf. Trouble starts when an apex predator called Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) wants the boy for himself so that he can finish off what he had started years earlier. The pack unwittingly sends the boy away in the care of the Panther to be delivered to the men but Shere Khan attacks him half way through, leading him to be estranged from the Panther and landing smack in the middle of a whirlwind adventure that would introduce him to a “Sloth Bear”, the king of the “Apes”, a mind controlling snake and above all make him embrace his destiny for what it is.
The Jungle Book is almost completely CGI rendered apart from its protagonist played by Neel Sethi. Thus a big amount of appreciation for what it is has to be given to the breathtaking visuals. From the moment the film starts, I couldn’t for once put a finger on a single piece of visual that didn’t feel real. The CGI and the reality seamlessly blended to create a kind of feel and effect that will transpose you to the world of the jungle. The visuals are so pretty that you can practically freeze any frame and use it as a desktop background. The director takes an interesting approach at not having too many diversification in terms of characters but ensures that each of the characters are animated with such detail that they feel more than real.
The animals are given a very human like attitude and way of dealing with their matters and for that matter threatening each other when it comes to them getting their way around things. This helps the audience connect with the characters instantly. The film is in so many ways an intricate human drama. The mannerism of the animals, the way they move about and fight and love and treat each other and themselves is detailed like I haven’t seen in many years. Shere Khan’s twitching of the ears when a fly buzzes to the little wolves hyper active running around to the Sloth Bear’s momentary scratching. The visuals and feel is immersive in every scene. The action sequences are electric and they will scare you at many junctures. The buffalo stampede shown in the trailer is thrilling and so is the final fight between Mowgli and Shere Khan.
A word about the 3D. There are so many films these days that come out in 3D but I constantly keep asking myself was it really necessary for this film to be made in 3D? In this case however, the 3D really works in tandem with the other visual elements and helps to transpose you to the world of Mowgli. The depth of field is particularly visible in the scenes where the vantage point is taken into consideration. The 3D adds a distinct dimension to the visuals and constantly elevates the feel and mood of the visuals at critical junctures.
After the visuals the next best thing about the film is the voice talents and they work wonders. Each and every character comes to life through the visuals and the brilliant feel of the character by the voice actors. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is scary. There isn’t a scene where you will not be scared by him. He constantly keeps getting in the way of things and the physicality that he has to himself is very on your face. No one can stand in front of him in terms of strength and that is outlined in the manner in which he moves and speaks. He beats them all and thus is always a revered and feared figure. Baloo, the Sloth Bear is voiced by Bill Murray who has an impeccable comic timing. I just loved his rendering of the character.
Ben Kingsley is Bagheera, the Panther and though he has a shortish role, he makes an impact. Neel Sethi is a revelation. The boy is totally natural and spectacular in his act. What I loved about his act was the fact that he had nothing more than green screens and may be dummies to react to for size, stature, emotion, fear and anger and he does a stupendous job with his emotions and expressions. They are very very real and on your face. He never comes out fake or repetitive. His act is not only likeable but also very relatable. The audience is bound to feel for him and identify with his emotions. That in turns helps in taking you into the narrative.
Overall, The Jungle Book is a roaring entertainer. It’s visually stunning with spellbinding action sequences and life like animation. In addition to the technical finesse it carries a mighty heart in terms of drama, performances and storytelling. I loved every second of it and chances are you will too. Don’t miss this film.