“The Jungle Book” is a serious achievement of filmmaking, an infinitely enjoyable, immersive live-action/CGI adaptation of a classic book (and animated movie) set in a lush jungle that was filmed entirely in downtown Los Angeles.
Director Jon Favreau has proved himself to be adept at working with technology and special effects and integrating them with live-action filmmaking in his past movies (the “Iron Man” series, “Zathura”). “The Jungle Book” is like the culmination of his work — and what a wonderful work it is.
This film has a breathtaking environment with dense foliage, lakes, vines everywhere and the animals! We’ve seen talking animals before, but this is next-level stuff. From the lumbering elephants to the tiny rodents, each is captured so accurately it can feel like you’re on safari.
Young actor Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, a young boy in the jungle being raised in a wolf pack and mentored by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). It’s a dangerous world out there, especially with the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) — who doesn’t trust humans and wants the boy dead — lurking around.
To keep Mowgli safe, Bagheera removes him from the pack so he can be with people. But they get split up on this quest, at which point Mowgli encounters many of the denizens of the jungle, including Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson), the giant ape King Louie (Christopher Walken) and the massive bear Baloo (Bill Murray).
The opportunistic bear initially sees Mowgli as a way to get more honey before they form a bond and share a song, which is a truly joyous moment.
The script by Justin Marks, inspired by the work of Rudyard Kipling, is funny and touching, and the voice cast is unimpeachable. Kinglsey’s voice, so filled with gravitas, makes for a perfect Bagheera. Murray has such amazing chemistry with Sethi, who has a strong feature-film debut (in a remake of a beloved classic in a CGI world, no less) with an earnest and emotional performance.
If studios are going to insist on making remakes of classic films, let’s hope they all put in the care that Favreau and his team did with “The Jungle Book.”