It is simply astonishing to think that director Jon Favreau’s new screen version of the Rudyard Kipling classic The Jungle Book, which Disney releases Friday, was entirely shot in some buildings in downtown L.A. With the magic of CGI and special effects, he and his team have created a stunning visual marvel with something for everyone. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this PG-rated family adventure has laughs, excitement, an exceptional voice cast and, most important, lots of heart. It is a cinematic achievement like no other — and I mean like. no. other. With only one human actor onscreen (newcomer Neel Sethi, playing the orphaned boy Mowgli) the cast mostly is flawlessly computer-generated animals you might think are real — well , except for the fact that they talk.
This version is based less directly on the book and more as a live-action take on Disney’s 1967 animated film that actually was the last one Walt Disney personally supervised before his death in late 1966. Of course, the story is well known, with Mowgli brought up by wolves and watched over by the elegant and dignified panther Bagheera (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley). It is an idyllic life for the lad, who can swing from the trees better than the many monkeys who populate his part of the planet. But evil lurks with the menacing presence of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), the tiger who has his own specific reasons for wanting to do away with Mowgli and threatens the wolf pack regularly in order to get him. Bagheera sends Mowgli on a journey to join his own kind. All the while, Shere Khan is keeping tabs on the boy.
The film really comes to life when the kid runs into the lovable , honey-obsessed bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray). He uses Mowgli to his own ends and lends the purest comical touches to this tale — as well as a duet of the Oscar-nominated tune “The Bare Necessities.” Baloo joins the boy on this journey, particularly to another great set piece where they come upon the “kingdom” of King Louie (Christopher Walken), a royal but rather domineering orangutan who lords over the monkey servants and gets to sing another tune from the ’67 original, “I Wanna Be Like You.” Trouble looms here, and it is a narrow escape for the boy who still hasn’t ditched the determined tiger.
Overall this is a much darker tale that the frothy musical comedy vibe of the ’67 effort, but it is entirely appropriate that Disney Studios is the one to take it on again and give it such absolute wonder. Murray steals the show as Baloo, but there is fine work throughout by everyone and even a bit role for the late Garry Shandling, who gets one of the dedications at the end. The real stars here are the crew and visual effects wizards who pull all this off without a hitch. After another hit involving an animal world, Zootopia, Disney — using the bare necessities of a soundstage — has done it again. Wow. Just wow.
Do you plan to see The Jungle Book? Let us know what you think.