By: BabyRuth (A Toast) –
Get ready to have “The Bare Necessities” stuck in your head for a week. Jon Favreau’s much anticipated “live” version of The Jungle Book finally hits theaters after a six month delay and I’m not even going to beat around the prickly pear cactus, it was definitely worth the wait.
Just go see it.
On the biggest screen possible.
Well, after you finish reading this review. Promise me you will. This is more of an event than a movie, and is not one to be missed.
Most of us were introduced to Mowgli, Baloo, and all the other jungle-dwelling animals in Walt Disney’s 1967 animated musical adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story. For anyone not familiar, likely due to being raised by wolves, The Jungle Book is about a young boy named Mowgli who is saved by a kind and wise panther named Bagheera after being orphaned as a toddler. Bagheera asks a pack of wolves to care for Mowgli as their own and they oblige. Everything goes well for a while until the fearsome and man-hating tiger Shere Khan shows up and demands the “mancub” be turned over to him.
With Bagheera’s help, Mowgli must leave his wolf family and make it safely to the human village, even though he doesn’t want to leave the only life he’s ever known in the jungle. Throughout his journey he meets a cast of characters, some friendly, many dangerous, with Shere Khan never too far behind
Where to start? Where to start?
My first toast most definitely goes to the extremely talented animal trainers. The scene at the drinking pond features hundreds of exotic animals and each stand on their marks perfectly and interact without fighting. What an accomplishment! And the tiger that plays Shere Khan and panther cast as Bagheera are just incredible!
I’m joking of course. None of the animals are actually “real,” although you’d swear they were. Even when they speak, as crazy as that sounds. We’ve come a long, long way from those Twilight wolves. The many talented technical wizards who meticulously and painstakingly created these magnificent creatures in such vivid detail deserve all the toasts in the world. Every movement, no matter how small, looks realistic. Animals display human-like expressions, but still look like animals. There is not a “dead eye” to be found in this entire film.
Likewise, the world they inhabit is stunning and must be seen to be believed. From the clever opening shot we are transported into the jungle and its beauty. There have been many comparisons to James Cameron’s Avatar, which are fitting though I’d argue this film picks up where 2012’s Life of Pi left off, especially regarding the use of 3-D. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
In most cases, even with near perfect digital effects, there’s a disconnect between the audience and what is happening on the screen. We are always aware in the back of our minds that what we are viewing was created on computers. Favreau and his team successfully turn that nagging reminder off and allow the audience to escape into the world of the film. At the risk of sounding corny, here, the “I” in CGI stands for imagination, the filmmakers’ and our own.
I swear I was able to feel the wind, the heat of fire, and droplets of rainwater (there’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in which “water” gets on the camera lens), that’s how immersing this experience is. Especially during the thrilling action sequences – Mowgli weaving in and out of trees and over the jungle’s lush terrain while being chased, a thunderous landslide, and some intense animal-on-animal fight scenes. Everything blends together seamlessly.
Speaking of Cameron, it’s quite a coincidence that he chose the week of The Jungle Book’s release to announce he is planning not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Avatar sequels.
“I’ll show you who’s king of the world… Favreau.”
Jon Favreau. As far as I’m concerned, he should direct every remake of an animated film going forward. He, like many of us, grew up on the original and clearly knew just how careful he had to be in recreating the beloved story. It’s as if he somehow psychically polled every fan of the Disney classic and asked them what they wanted to see and how they wanted to see it done, made a checklist, and waved a magic wand. There is not one missed step.
Favreau pays tribute to both Kipling’s source material and the Disney version with perfect balance. The film feels like long-lost footage of the actual events that inspired the 1967 film, if that makes any sense at all. Of course it’s darker than the lighthearted musical, but never goes too far and is balanced out by feel-good moments and genuine humor. Most importantly, it has tons of heart, beautifully exploring the themes of courage, family, friendship, and identity.
Back to that whole “darker” thing for a moment, if I may… I feel like I need to address something. I’ve been hearing a lot of “be careful bringing young children, as some of the imagery might be too scary for them.”
No. Stop that. Stop that right now.
There’s common sense and then there is overreacting. (Unless you’re talking about infants, who shouldn’t be in a movie theater ever, period.) Yes, there are a few moments of very real-looking danger, but kids are a lot braver than they are given credit for and a scary scene or two is not going to scar them for life. Think about some parts of the classic children’s films – Bambi’s mother’s death, the evil queen as the witch in Snow White, the freakin’ Oompa Loompas (shut up, they scared me)! There needs to be an element of danger. There need to be stakes. That’s what makes the eventual payoff, pay off. This is a PG rated family film, not Tarantino, and it would be a shame to deprive your precious snowflake of the wonder of movie magic like this. Little Jimmy can handle it, I assure you.
Favreau knows exactly what he is doing. He and screenwriter Justin Marks even go the extra mile during the end credits to resolve one character’s previously ambiguous fate so as not to leave any child asking his or her parents what happened to them.
Newcomer Neel Sethi looks exactly like the real-life version of Disney’s animated Mowgli and he interacts so naturally with his animal co-stars that it’s easy to forget they aren’t actually there (Fun fact: Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created life-sized puppets that were used on-set alongside Sethi to serve as eyelines). The entire film pretty much rests on his tiny shoulders because without a convincing Mowgli, you have no Jungle Book. He pulls it off easily, which is quite an accomplishment for a (then) ten-year old with very little previous acting experience.
The creatures are voiced by an A-list cast of actors. Often, celebrity voice talent can distract from the characters they are portraying, but in this case, like every other element in this film, it works flawlessly.
Ben Kingsley’s majestic voice suits the stoic Bagheera. Idris Elba is commanding and downright terrifying as Shere Khan. Lupita Nyong’o delivers a heart-wrenching performance as Raksha, Mowgli’s mother figure (she’s incredible- bring tissues). Making the seductively deadly python Kaa a female was an inspired decision, all the more so by casting Scarlett Johansson, who can certainly hypnotize with her voice alone (as she displayed in Her), in the role. Christopher Walken and his wonderfully offbeat phrasing make a great King Louie. He plays the colossal
orangutan Gigantopithecus like a mob boss and is simultaneously hilarious and unnerving. There’s also a bittersweet moment featuring Garry Shandling in his final role as a neurotic porcupine.
And then, in perhaps the most perfect casting in history, Bill Murray voices Baloo, the oafish but lovable sloth bear. If you were to tell me that this entire film came to be based on someone saying “hey, let’s remake The Jungle Book and have Bill Murray be Baloo,” I would not question it for a second. He puts his own spin on the character and provides some of the funniest as well as sweetest moments. Try, I dare you, try not to smile and tear up at the recreation of the iconic scene featuring Mowgli sitting on Baloo’s belly while they float down a river and sing “The Bare Necessities” together.
Yes, that song is in there. Of course it is! Again, Favreau knows exactly what he is doing and what the audience wants. The second most memorable song “I Wan’na Be Like You,” makes an appearance too, though the transition is less natural than “Necessities” when Walken’s King Louie just kind of starts scat-singing out of nowhere. But who cares? It needed to be there. People would be mad if it wasn’t and it still works for the most part. These are the only two songs in the film; however Scarlett Johansson’s sultry version of “Trust In Me” plays over the end credits. (Speaking of, be sure to stay through those; they are one final treat in the delicious feast that this movie is.)
Oh, one more thing! There’s a brilliant in-joke shout-out to one of Christopher Walken’s most famous Saturday Night Live characters. I won’t say any more. (Don’t be put off by this as it may sound like one of those attempts by a children’s movie to include a pop-culture reference for adults to giggle at. This is most certainly not one of those films and the moment is so subtle you just may miss it until someone points it out. But if you happen to catch it, it’s wonderful.)
Groundbreaking, stunning, thrilling, and heartwarming, The Jungle Book is simply, a masterpiece. I went into this film with high expectations and it exceeded them. This is not just a great remake, it is certain to become a classic in its own right. Take two hours out of your week to go to your local cinema, forget about your worries and your strife, and allow yourself to be a child again. Thank you, Jon Favreau. You get us.
The Jungle Book (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anyone refers to the “red flower”
Take a Drink: every time you catch yourself “aww”ing at an adorable animal
Take a Drink: when Mowgli uses his “tricks”
Take another Drink: when he is scolded for it by Bagheera
Take a Drink: for every celebrity voice you recognize
Toast and Pour One Out: for Garry Shandling