Disney have put a lot of time, money and effort into creating a ‘new’ brand to go alongside some of their more established subdivisions, like Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. I’m talking about their live action remakes of animated classics, which so far include Alice in wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, and now The Jungle Book. This film stands out as being a little different however, as pretty much all but one of the characters in The Jungle Book are animals, and a strong case could be made that it’s more well-known as a musical than the other films that have been adapted so far. Realistic looking singing animals will no doubt need something special to not seem ridiculous, so it must be a good thing that this is being called “the most technologically advanced film ever made” by its director.
After being found alone in the jungle, the ‘man cub’ Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves as one of their own. When the fearsome (British) tiger Shere Khan finds out that there’s a human living among the animals, he doesn’t take the news well, and makes it his mission to personally track down and kill Mowgli. Not wanting to bring danger to his adopted family, the man cub sets out into the jungle to find his own people, along with panther Bagheera and sloth bear Baloo for protection, company, and maybe a few life lessons.
Something that kept being said in the run up to this film being released was that there were no sets, and no real animals. That is truly incredible, as in terms of pure visual effects, this is the most amazing film I’ve ever seen. I kept reminding myself of that fact throughout the film, but it looks so real that it’s almost impossible to continuously think about it. Yes, some of the animals don’t look completely natural when they’re speaking, because animals don’t speak in real life (revelation – I know), but the backgrounds all look photo realistic. This film also marks the best that animated eyes have ever looked, as that’s normally the place that CGI characters fall down.
There is one place that this film doesn’t quite work, and that’s the story. While it’s never hugely noticeable, and it really is the fault of the source material, the film does play out more like a series of random encounters with increasingly dangerous animals than an interesting and cohesive plot. That being said, the remarkably brilliant cast more than make up for this shortcoming. Newcomer Neel Sethi is completely believable as Mowgli, and anchors the film as well as any long time professional could, Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray are literally perfect as Bagheera and Baloo respectively, and no review of this film would be complete without mentioning Christopher Walken as the Gigantopithecus King Louie. And also Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Wow this cast was excellent.
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