Another Disney reboot? Here’s me with my arms crossed, ready for the worst. “The Jungle Book” is one of my favorite classic Disney movies. It’s “a boy movie” as my wife calls them, like “Robin Hood” or “Sword in the Stone” and one that I could watch anytime, any place. If it were on TV, with 10 minutes left, on mute, I’d still watch it. So obviously when I heard they were making yet another live-action version, I didn’t expect much. Then they started announcing the cast: Bill Murray, Bill Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johanson, Lupita Nyong’o, and of course, Jon Favreau directing. Then the early reviews came in and everyone was raving about it. Well, guess what?
They were right.
“The Jungle Book”, in case you don’t know, is the story of young boy Mowgli, who is raised by wolves in the jungles of India. When he’s around eight or nine years old, vicious tiger Shere Khan (Elba) threatens Mowgli’s pack as well as all the animals of the jungle unless Mowgli gives himself up for the pain and disfigurement caused by his father when he was a baby. Bagheera (Kingsley), who found Mowgli and delivered him to the wolves for protection, knew this day would come and takes Mowgli back to the man-village. Along the way, they are separated and Mowgli meets a lovable sloth-bear named Baloo (Murray) whom he helps gather food using his “tricks”, which are really just tools like sharpened rocks and vine ropes. Before long, Shere Khan learns where Mowgli is in hiding and comes searching for him. He also meets the enormous King Louie (Walken) inside the monkey temple, who wants Mowgli to teach him how to make fire. Mowgli, Bagherra and Baloo must work together with the other jungle creatures to survive and protect the jungle from the beautiful but destructive Red Flower and the murderous Shere Khan.
Firstly, this film is GORGEOUS. Absolutely stunning. The computer graphics go above and beyond anything I have ever seen before. At one point early in the film, I leaned over to the wife and said, “We need to get a new, fancy HD TV just so we can watch this on repeat.” There are no live animals in this film either; they are all computer-generated. Which is huge for animal rights in filmmaking. If this can be replicated, there won’t need to be another real animal in a film ever again (read about the making of movies like “Milo and Otis” and “Homeward Bound” if you want to know why that’s a big deal). Also they look so real, it’s difficult to tell they aren’t. I half expected my cat to start speaking to us when we got home.
Secondly, the cast is perfect. I love Phil Harris’ Baloo from the original cartoon. He and Little Jon are two of my favorite characters in Disney’s filmography (and both voiced by Harris). But Bill Murray, guys. He’s so lovable and timid, but brave and selfless. And Kingsley as Bagheera is a no-brainer. He could voice telephone prompts and win an Oscar for it. Elba’s Shere Khan was even more terrifying than the original cartoon and the modulation they did on his voice to add an almost permanent growl is really cool. Nyong’o’s wolf mom Raksha is also perfect casting: she’s compassionate and cautious, but commanding and protective of her adopted son. The only casting that didn’t work 100% was Johanson as Kaa. Mostly because it was one, very quick scene, but also because did it really need to be her? It was missing something for sure and was the only one out of place. And guys, Christopher Walken as King Louie. That’s enough said right there. Lastly, the boy who plays Mowgli is amazing. Newcomer Neel Sethi spent 102 minutes acting against NOTHING and was amazing. There are no other humans in the movie! Just him and animals that aren’t really there. Tremendous.
And finally the story. Mostly based on the book but also borrowing just the right elements from the animated film, I was on the edge of my seat! A tale of family, friendship, overcoming prejudice, and the power of teamwork. Disney is killing it lately! There are a few scary moments, so makes sure the little ones are prepared (it is rated PG).
I can’t say enough good things about this film. It took me a few scenes to quiet the critic in me, but after that, I was crying and laughing and gripping my armrests until the final credits rolled. It was GREAT.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is a former reporter and columnist for the Holyoke Enterprise. His new short film “What Kent Did” is available on You Tube and Facebook and has been submitted to numerous film festivals around the country. Follow @lincolnlhayes on Twitter for more updates.