When most people think of writer/director Jon Favreau nowadays, they more than likely think of his work on the enormously popular “Iron Man” franchise, the first two films of which he directed. Many seem to forget that, before his days on the major superhero series, he actually gave us a pair of family-friendly films that included “Zathura: A Space Adventure” and the enduring Christmas favorite “Elf.” So while there may have been those that were surprised that he was chosen to direct a live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” they really shouldn’t have been, for when you look at his filmography, he has quite the experience with big budgets, special effects, and films for children. Indeed, this is more than likely why his interpretation of the classic tale works as well as it does.
As the film opens, we meet young Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a boy who was left alone in the jungle as a baby. Having been raised by a wolf, Raksha (Voice of Lupita Nyong’o), he is considered one of the pack, living beside all creatures of the jungle under the watchful eyes of Bagheera (Voice of Sir Ben Kingsley), the panther who originally found him, and Akela (Voice of Giancarlo Esposito), the leader of the wolf pack. When a tiger, Shere Khan (Voice of Idris Elba), declares that he wants to get rid of Mowgli, the young boy decides that it’s best for the pack if he leaves. Bagheera determines that the best thing to do is to take him to the “man village” so that he can be with his own kind, but circumstances separate them, sending Mowgli on a wild adventure that will have him meeting a number of unusual characters.
The first thing that’s going to come to mind when “The Jungle Book” is mentioned is the classic animated Disney film, which many regard as a fine telling of the tale that features some memorable tunes, while a few may even remember the mid-90s live-action adaptation, which seems to have been forgotten with the passage of time. All of this leads to the question of why anyone would feel the need for another adaptation, or perhaps the better question would be: how does this latest version set itself apart from the other versions that have come before it? After all, we’ve already seen animated and live-action tellings, so what could be done differently to make it stand out?
Well, as it turns out, there’s quite a lot to separate director Jon Favreau’s and screenwriter Justin Marks’ adaptation from what has come before, starting with the film’s incredibly gorgeous look. No expense has been spared for the film’s stunning CGI work that puts young Mowgli in a fully-rendered jungle environment, talking with a number of beautifully-realistic animals that include wolves, monkeys, elephants, and a multitude of other jungle creatures. For the film’s brief 90 minutes, the audience is completely immersed in this incredible environment that will have your jaw dropping at every turn as our young hero goes about his journey and meets all of the intriguing characters. Don’t be surprised at all if the film should earn an Oscar nomination (and possible win) for Visual Effects during the next award season.
Its other standout element is the phenomenal cast, led by newcomer Neel Sethi. Sethi delivers a great portrayal of the young “man cub,” made even more impressive by the fact that all of his scenes were done with stand-ins where the animals were going to be once the CGI was completed. Then, of course, there’s the all-star voice cast that includes Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Christopher Walken, in addition to Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, and Giancarlo Esposito. Each and every one of them does a fantastic job, helping to bring the audience into this story just as much as its amazing visuals.
As far as the story itself goes, there are a few different plot points, but there’s not a whole lot out of the ordinary that happens. However, that doesn’t really seem to be the reason that these filmmakers went back to revisit this material in the first place They saw the chance to take a classic story and turn it into a visual feast for a new generation of filmgoers, and that’s exactly what they did with the state-of-the-art CGI. Anyone could have made a live-action version of Kipling’s story and had Mowgli running around a jungle built in a studio, but Favreau and his team went the extra mile to give you much more than that, instead delivering a film that looks so realistic, that you could almost swear our young hero is actually in the depths of the jungle interacting with the various animals. The narrative is still touching, as it always is, but ultimately this film is meant to be a visual feast, and for that, along with its excellent ensemble, it stands out as a grand version of the tale.
“The Jungle Book” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of fantastic quality. As mentioned earlier, this is a beautiful film to behold, and the crystal clear image presented throughout the entire feature does the incredible CGI work great justice. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and songs in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given the very best of treatment, leaving you with an unbeatable experience.
Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau: A fascinating track that has the director presenting several interesting behind the scenes facts about the film.
The Jungle Book Reimagined (35 Minutes): An excellent discussion between the director, producer, and visual effects supervisor about the making of the film.
I Am Mowgli (8 Minutes): A featurette that features an interview and behind the scenes footage of Neel Sethi, the young actor who plays Mowgli.
King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer (3 Minutes): A brief look behind the scenes at King Louie’s song “I Wanna Be Like You.”
With its gorgeous, state-of-the-art CGI and exceptional ensemble, Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” becomes an outstanding telling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale. There may not be much in the way of narrative surprises, but the film works marvelously as a visual feast, fully immersing the audience in its stunning environments and photo-realistic animal characters, making this an adventure most definitely worth going on.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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