Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

Jon Favreau's live-action version of THE JUNGLE BOOK is a satisfying mix of photo-realistic visual spectacle and heartfelt family-friendly adventure.

From the 1942 live-action version of JUNGLE BOOK starring Sabu as Mowgli to the Walt Disney's 1967 animated classic, the last time Rudyard Kipling's most beloved creation appeared on the big screen was the 2003 animated sequel. Now following from the recent box office successes of Disney's animated classics-turned-live-action features that include MALEFICENT (2014) and CINDERELLA (2015), THE JUNGLE BOOK is getting a state-of-the-art visual facelift in the hands of IRON MAN director Jon Favreau. The result is a visually stunning motion picture that appeals to both kids and adults. Best of all, it is a notable improvement over Disney's first live-action attempt of THE JUNGLE BOOK twenty-two years ago previously starred Jason Scott Lee and directed by pre-MUMMY fame Stephen Sommers.


In this latest live-action version that reimagining the 1967 animated classic of the same name, the story centres on an orphaned man-cub named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is found in the jungle by the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). He is raised by a pack of Indian wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Then one day, a fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) demands the boy to be surrendered to him since human is forbidden to live in the jungle. After a brief standoff, Mowgli gradually volunteers to leave the jungle in peace. Soon he travels across the jungle with Bagheera to rejoin human civilisation in the village. But the journey becomes a series of adventures as Mowgli almost falls prey to a female python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), making friend with a lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and dealing with a Bandar-log gangster King Louie (Christopher Walken) before finally facing Shere Khan once and for all.


During the press screening, THE JUNGLE BOOK was presented in IMAX 3D. From the opening image of the Disney's castle logo that retracts deep into the CG jungle environment, Favreau and his special effect crew immediately immerses the viewers with a smooth tracking shot as we witness Mowgli run, scale and jump from a tree branch to another like a parkour runner. Needless to say, the 3D effect is spectacular and definitely the kind of movie you should watch in the IMAX cinema. It's just amazing. 

THE JUNGLE BOOK also successfully bring the animal characters to vivid life using a seamless blend of life-sized puppets and motion-capture technology. Whether it's Bagheera the black panther, Shere Khan the tiger or Baloo the bear, each of these animal movements is meticulously crafted to eye-catching perfection. Not to mention, these animal characters look so lifelike that they are no doubt among the best effect ever seen since the CG tiger in Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI (2012). Other technical achievements, including Bill Pope's majestic cinematography and Christopher Glass' elaborate production design, are all worthy of praises. John Debney's lavish score, in the meantime, evokes a sense of adventure and grandeur throughout the movie.

Justin Marks' adapted screenplay is straightforward yet crowd-pleasing enough that mixes an effective coming-of-age story about Mowgli's journey of self-discovery and a good old-fashioned action adventure of the yesteryear.

As the only flesh-and-blood character on screen, casting an unknown newcomer often make or break if the actor fails to engage the viewers emotionally. But thankfully, young Neel Sethi proves to be a wonderful prodigy who is both charming and likable at the same time. The all-star voice cast ranging from Ben Kingsley's stately Bagheera the black panther to Bill Murray's cheerful yet humourous Baloo the bear, are top notch. Even the minor appearances of the late comedian Garry Shandling's neurotic Ikki the porcupine and Scarlett Johansson's seductive Kaa the python, have their own moments. Then there's Idris Elba, who is perfectly chosen to voice the malevolent tiger Shere Khan. Christopher Walken, who is no stranger to playing gangster roles in the past, is right on target as the godfather-like giant orangutan King Louie.


There is plenty of worthwhile moments in this movie, but I would go with the thrilling scene involving Mowgli encountering King Louie and his army of monkeys in the ancient stone temple.


If there's a shortcoming, Disney's two beloved songs of "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You" are awkwardly misplaced like obligatory fillers rather than natural inclusions that don't fit the overall tone of the movie.


As I mentioned earlier, THE JUNGLE BOOK is truly a visually immersive experience when viewing this in IMAX 3D. And most importantly, this movie marked a significantly major comeback for Jon Favreau, especially after his past two big-budget efforts of IRON MAN 2 (2010) and COWBOY & ALIENS (2011) failed to make a lasting impact.

* This review is written courtesy from Walt Disney Malaysia IMAX 3D press screening *

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