What else can you say, other than that Disney has done it again? “The Jungle Book” is the next in line of a series of live-action remakes of Disney classics, joining the likes of “Maleficent” and “Cinderella.” But where its predecessors applied touches of computer generated images to enhance the performance of real-live actors, “The Jungle Book” relies completely on CGI to tell its story. The approach is one that is relatively hit-or-miss, but the film passes with flying colors. The product is one of the most complete and engrossing visual efforts in recent memory.
“The Jungle Book’s” plot doesn’t deviate from the original in any meaningful way, but to those new to the story, it tells the story of Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi), a human child raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle. Mowgli’s peaceful existence with the rest of the animals of the jungle is interrupted by the arrival of Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), a fearsome tiger with a score to settle against all humans. Mowgli is forced to flee for his life, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he faces his identity as both man and animal. Along the way, he meets various animals, such as the lovable bear Baloo (Bill Murray), the mesmerizing python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and the colossal orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).
“The Jungle Book’s” plot definitely reads like a children’s classic, and rightfully so, but the plot is almost irrelevant. The film’s real substance comes from its hyper-realistic visuals, which encompass literally everything in the movie except Mowgli himself. The detail devoted to the coat and gait of every single creature is simply incredible. If not for the fact that each animal talks, the film could almost be taken for a spectacular nature documentary. Most notably rendered is the character of Shere Khan, whose huge, muscular frame and deliberate steps just exude an aura of danger. In addition to the perfect capture of animals going through their natural lives, the film employs the use of gorgeous set pieces and harrowing action sequences, and the visuals don’t skip a beat. In particular, a “Lion King”-esque scene involving a stampede in the gorge will make you wonder whether you’re really watching a kids movie, and didn’t accidentally stumble into “Avatar.”
The rest of the film is by no means disappointing, but is nothing as groundbreaking as its visuals. The voice-acting is top notch, with Idris Elba as Shere Khan offering a memorable performance. Neel Seethi gives a satisfactory performance, but is more of a footnote that anchors the movie as a live-action film. Noticeably absent from the film are many of the songs from the original movie, and it appears to be a smart choice. The remake includes two of the most famous songs, “I Wanna Be Like You” and “The Bear Necessities,” and they seem somewhat awkward when compared to the realistic, darker tone of the rest of the film. The inclusion of these songs just reinforces “The Jungle Book’s” whole point–it’s a wonderful family friendly movie that preaches an easily absorbable message with a presentation that can wow both children and seasoned movie veterans.