Jon Favreau and Disney. Like chocolate and peanut butter, they are two great tastes that have a history of tasting great together. The director brought the studio a pair of hits with the first two entries in the Iron Man franchise. It’s no surprise then that now that the studio is focusing on live action updates of their animated classics, that it turned to Favreau to bring a live action version of The Jungle Book to the big screen.
Sure, it won’t be easy to bring the underwater world of The Little Mermaid to life, but The Jungle Book brings a special challenge. A child has to perform, with no other live actors, in an environment that can swallow up someone not ready for the challenge. Need Sethi, who makes his feature length debut in the role, is more than ready.
All of your favorite animals are here and voiced by some of your favorite celebrities. Bagheera, the panther than protects the man cub, Mowgli, is voiced by Ben Kingsley. Lupita Nyong’o is the voice of Raksha, the wolf that raises Mowgli as her own. Bill Murray is perfectly cast as Baloo, the carefree sloth bear.
There are certainly some missteps in the casting world, particularly King Louie, the giant orangutan who has been given a certain jazzman cool in the past by the likes of Louis Prima and Scatman Crothers, is voiced in this version by Christopher Walken. The result sounds like gangster with a head cold. Overall though, the cast is a lot of fun.
The movie also looks great. I mentioned that the environment could swallow an under-prepared actor. That’s because everything is so lush. The jungle environments pop with the bright colors of nature and the muted colors of the ruins men have left behind.
The CGI beasts also look great, particularly Kaa, the boa constrictor (voiced seductively by Scarlett Johansson). Kaa just looks right as she wraps tighter and tighter around young Mowgli and is actually scary as she unhinges her jaw to go in for the kill.
There are definitely elements of modern Hollywood’s obsession with darker and grittier takes on classic characters. King Louie doesn’t so much sing his signature “I Wanna be Like You” as he does ominously slur the lyrics at Mowgli. The killer tiger Sheer Kahn (voiced by Idris Elba) is shown flat out murdering other animals just because he can. These things obviously would never have made it to the animated version so many of us grew up with, but they aren’t so far outside of the realm of what we expect these characters are capable of that it is off-puting.
My only real complaint with The Jungle Book is what we do not get as a result of it’s release. A few years back, Jon Favreau and Disney were said to be collaborating on a project called Magic Kingdom, which was like Night at the Museum set in Walt Disney World. That was put on the back burner in order to make The Jungle Book available before the summer. Now that a sequel to The Jungle Book has already been announced, it looks like The Magic Kingdom gets pushed even further down the docket.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network. He can be heard weekday mornings from 6-10 on "The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri" on Buzz Sports Radio.