Whoever said CGI ruins movies?
The Jungle Book is a 2016 live action version of the book collection by author Rudyard Kipling. It is also inspired by the 1967 Disney animated film of the same name. It features voice work from Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, and Scarlett Johansson.
The film tells the story of a young boy named Mowgli, a human boy who was separated from his parents as a baby. He is raised by a wolf pack and is taught various lessons by a black panther named Bagheera. Mowgli eventually decides to leave the jungle, but finds himself in danger when is pursued by the Bengal tiger Shere Khan, who despises humans.
CGI is under much scrutiny nowadays, since many moviegoers and critics typically find it to be an overused, and sometimes poorly executed, technique in action, fantasy, and science fiction based films. The Jungle Book's biggest accomplishment should, perhaps, be its ability to take CGI and elevate it to a level of visual splendor that could be seen as a new standard. The jungle backgrounds are something out of a Bob Ross painting, and the live-action animated animals evoke enough realism to make you believe you can reach out and touch them as if they were actually there.
As you engross yourself in the spectacular visuals, there is also a quality story and exciting action sequences to further enhance the experience. To put the cherry on top, the animal characters, primarily Baloo the bear, Bagheera, and Shere Khan, are all highly synchronized with their respective voice actors.
- Idris Elba as Shere Khan. As a brief sidenote, I feel the need to first comment that Bill Murray was the perfect choice for Baloo, a bear who perfectly matches Murray's humor, charm, and maturity. Ben Kingsley also is highly suitable as the wise teacher Bagheera. But Idris Elba as Shere Khan is the surefire standout, in what should be considered one of the most menacing and intimidating voice roles in recent memory. Elba masterfully uses his steely vocals to turn Shere Khan into the ruthless predator he is known to be.
- The faithfulness to the Disney film and Kipling's original novel. If you saw the Disney film before hand and/or read Kipling's book, it's easy to see the film is stingy from deviating from its source material. All of the major characters and plot sequences you may have seen or read about before are present, and this time in beautiful CGI.
- The attempts at recreating songs from the Disney film. The two primary songs we hear sung by the characters are "Bare Necessities" and, "I Wan'na Be Like You." Though the film is not in and of itself a musical, it does seem to go about these songs as if they were thrown in at the last minute. It's a nice gesture to try and pay homage to the Disney film, but the energy and focus is lacking in these songs.
- Kaa the python. Scarlett Johansson does a fine job as the voice of Kaa, but the hypnotizing snake feels as if he (she?) is too blended into the jungle background to have any kind of significant impact on the story. Just when Kaa makes his (her?) grand entrance, he/she is gone and forgotten in a matter of moments.
Bolstered by its breathtaking CGI and powerful voice cast, The Jungle Book is a well-crafted and adventurous film that exceeds expectations. I, admittedly, did not get high hopes when I first saw the trailers, but after seeing it, I can confidently say it will be a film that will hold up for years to come, as well as be a worthy contender at next year's Academy Awards.
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