Growing up as a young fellow, my sister and I were very big fans of the Disney Masterpiece Collection series of films. Which of course included The Jungle Book, which was definitely among our favorites of the classic titles. The story of a young boy who is raised by wolves and befriends a panther and a bear in his travels, contained rich songs, a fun story and a lot of action to keep us entertained through out. So I will admit the idea of a live action version of this story had me worried.
Sure, Disney has been on a bit of a high lately turning their classic cartoon tales in to real life stories, with the success of Alice in the Wonderland (the worst of those films to date), the excellent Cinderella and the decent Maleficent, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. When I heard that Iron Man director Jon Favreau, who may just be the most underrated director working today, was signed on to direct I felt a little bit easier about this project. Then the trailer hit and I was like the rest of you, in complete awe! I couldn’t wait to see this film.
Well I am happy to say Disney and Faverau nailed it, making a film that is about as good as the Disney classic it stemmed from. Bursting with eye popping effects, wowing us with beautiful and life like CGI animals and containing a story that is true to the original while making the necessary changes but keeping all the heart and soul of the animated classic. They couldn’t have done a better job!
Mowgil is played by young Neel Sethi who does a wonderful job bring to live the much beloved character and it is all the more impressive that he is often onscreen alone only surrounded by the CGI characters. This young man has a very bright future ahead of him.
The voice work here is just off the charts. Ben Kinglsey is just the perfect voice to bring Bagheera to live, with a voice that oozes wise, from many years of being on this planet. Bill Murray is the perfect comedic actor to voice the often times silly Baloo, bring to live the characters can do attitude and humor. Scarlet Johansson voices the hypnotic snake Kaa to live, with a sultry, sexiness that is easy to believe would seduce any man. And Idris Elba brings just the right hid of evil and boldness to the voice of Tiger Shere Khan. However the clear show stopper is Christopher Walken singing “I wanna be like you” as he plays King Louie with the perfect about of sly coolness that both Walken and Louie are known for.
What also really works well here is the screenplay by Justin Marks, who changes things up a bit from the Disney tale, to make everything just a bit tighter and bit more modern. He keeps the main points the same but adds just a few minor touches of his own to tell the story in a unique spin, to keep it fresh and not just be a direct remake.
The action scenes are wonderful and keep you on the each of your seat, without being too scary for the younger audience this film is guided towards. Scenes were Mowgil is getting honey for Baloo, helping a heard of Elephants, running through the ruins while being chased by King Louie or in a fire fight to the death with Shere Khan are all spectacular and visually arresting.
You gotta kind of hand it to Disney. They took an idea that was doomed to fail, taking your classic cartoon films and making them real life, and somehow have managed to not only make the movies great, but make it so they are huge hits and a new generation can now have their masterpiece collection with these live action gems. So far so good from Disney, with The Jungle Book being the best of the bunch so far. We have Pete’s Dragon coming in August and Beauty and the Beast slated for next year already. Heck I say lets see the live action Lion King, Little Mermaid and Dumbo already!