Movie Review: “The Jungle Book” – The Best One Yet

Written by Matt Butler April 29, 2016

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Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book is the best of both worlds. With the comic light-heartedness of the 1967 animated feature matched with mature philosophy and spirituality (I’ll assume from the Kipling novel), the jungle feels at once homely and exotic. We may feel welcome in this jungle, but it’s not all fun and games.

The premise is simple and familiar enough: a man-cub wants to live in the jungle. However, Favreau’s dedication to the written work unearths an expansive world, situating the jungle as a microcosm of cultures. Something that really struck with me was the concept of the water truce, in which all animals lay aside predatory instincts in the face of a scarcity of water. According to my grandpa, this a real thing that real animals do. How about that. 

“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”

The Jungle Book is also rightly engrossed in Indian culture, what with the Hindu statues and carvings and the religious overtones of the elephants. This works even outside of the context of Hinduism, as it’s a reminder to Mowgli (Neel Sethi) of higher powers, of deities that humble us with the reminder of our mortality. Mowgli may feel at home in the jungle, but that does not make it his domain. I don’t know, maybe this is just me needlessly prattling on about my liminal understanding of religion, but it’s a testament to a film that encourages its audience to think.

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It’s stuff like this, the deeper meanings brought to the surface, that make me realize all that was missing from the 1967 film. Obviously, Disney wasn’t going for the same result back then as they are now, we are talking about two completely different eras of cinema. The 1967 film was simple because it intended to be, a staple of Disney’s works in general. While there is a comedic charm to the animated take, it’s hardly a technically impressive feat (keep an eye out for all the reused animation, there’s a lot of it…). But I’m not here to knock a perfectly passable film. What I’m saying is, these are two different movies, one just happens to be aiming for a grander scale, and it succeeds tremendously.

“Have I got your attention now?!?”

However, I wasn’t entirely engaged in everything The Jungle Book had to offer. Maybe a few scenes could have been chopped down a tad, or, more likely, I fell into the trailer trap (a term I’ll use in referring to overexposure to trailers and clips). I found myself more in anticipation for the next epic shot (as seen in the trailer) than I was enjoying the present shots. Again, this could just be a subjective issue, but really, everything else, everything new (which, again, I’ll assume is taken from the book) was incredibly compelling. I love how Mowgli was adept and resourceful since it legitimizes Shere Khan’s (Idris Elba) positing him as a threat. I love how Shere Khan actually had a clear motive to kill Mowgli. I love how Mowgli does prove to be an objective threat to the jungle, and that the solution is not his vacating but rather his respectful collaboration with the animal kingdom. These are all intelligent pieces to a masterful and optimistic conceit of humanity’s intertwining with nature, and the responsibilities entailed, and it’s not Avatar-level pandering either.

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Speaking of Avatarlet’s talk CGI. It shouldn’t be too shocking for me to tell you that the animals that populate this jungle aren’t, in fact, real. What is shocking though: neither is most of the jungle. This movie was filmed entirely in Los Angeles, believe it or not. Maybe with how movies are done these days, it’s not too hard to believe, but there’s never a moment where I thought “yeah they did that shot with a blue-screen”. I think this has a lot to do with the weight of it all. A common issue with computer-generated characters in live-action settings is an unnatural elasticity and lightness to the movements. This is much easier to notice in human characters than animals, but regardless of the creature, the human eye can detect fakeness very easily, and in a pseudo-dramatic world like The Jungle Book, you can only suspend our disbelief so much. Thankfully, in the case of The Jungle Book, even as their mouths and eyes emote humanly, all the animals move with realistic weight. On top of that, the voice performances, all of them, are so pitch-perfect that any small suspension of disbelief hardly even matters.

“Am I in the right monkey temple?”

In short, everything about The Jungle Book works, and it works well. There’s a clear respect to the book, the film and the audience for what made each iteration memorable and engaging. While I wasn’t entirely compelled from beginning to end, this is without a doubt the smartest live-action remake of a Disney fable to date. Don’t know if that’s saying much, but just like The Jungle Book, it endows me with optimism.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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