Jungle Book: A review
Many children count The Jungle Book as a childhood favourite, myself included. So my expectations for this film were perhaps unrealistically high, especially as the 1967 film was also one of my favourite films (we had the VHS copy). It’s perhaps impossible to expect any film to hold up against such idealistic standards of nostalgia and The Jungle Book indeed does not match my nostalgic aspirations. It far surpasses them. This is not a film that is grounded in the past and limited by its source material. The movie is instead revelatory in every sense.
The movie is revelatory while being faithful to both Kipling’s original and to a lesser extent, the 1967 film. There is definitely a slight feeling of classic spirit about the film which is inevitable in a story which we all know. One of the most striking themes about the film, which I never really got in the original film, was of how much Mowgli is stuck between two worlds. It’s pretty much the central theme of the book and the film stays true to the time, continually reminding us that Mowgli is in a unique place. We worry for the character and his future. That we would do so knowing the story beforehand is an achievement of storytelling.
This is a film with clear themes even if Mowgli’s place in the world being unclear is the central theme. Friendship, law of the jungle and the presence of evil are main subjects of the book and the film as well. In Shere Khan, brilliantly voiced by Idris Elba (the entire film is voiced by a superstar cast whose every performance is on target, which must surely be a first) we have one of the best villains of the year. And we also have the only character who suggests that the presence of man in the jungle is a bad thing. This is crucial to the book and makes it easier to empathize with Shere Khan, which I always think is critical in making a villain real and not a stereotype.
The characters are all very strong with Christopher Walken’s King Louie and Bill Murray’s Baloo being especially notable. King Louie sitting on his throne brings to mind classic scenes not of the 1967 film but of Brando in Apocalypse Now. No one but Walken could perform as a giant CGI ape and somehow have a performance that you’d say is keeping in character with what you’d expect from the actor. Murray’s Baloo is filled with the comedic excellence you’d expect from the actor and it serves to add further emphasis to the serious parts.
The most striking part of the film is the technical and visual aspects. Almost all of the film’s landscapes are made with CGI. It’s possibly the most comprehensive and best use of CGI since Avatar. I’m usually indifferent towards CGI and 3D, especially as it seems more common that films in 3D only are shot in this format as a gimmick to draw crowds. Jungle Book is one of those rare films that is improved by being shot in 3D, like Hugo or Gravity. The filmmakers never overpower us with the sense of creation but in the end they’ve managed to create an entire world for this movie.
This may not be particularly child-oriented in the sense that the film can be a bit scary at times (I’m pretty sure I’d have gotten nightmares if I’d seen this when I was 6). But it’s certainly innovative and enjoyable and certainly one of the best movies of the year. Despite take a hundred year old story and mixing in the elements of a beloved film almost 50 years old, something wholly unexpected was achieved. A totally unique film experience.