It’s a weird thing, to be old enough to feel nostalgia for one’s own childhood. As the first wave of this millennial generation, and a child of the 90s, I am part of the last generation of people to have watched our movies on VHS cassette. One of those movies amongst a collection of other classic Disney animated films, is the 1967 version of, The Jungle Book.
Thirty-nine years ago a hand-drawn masterpiece debuted (the last animated film that Walt Disney personally oversaw before passing away), I find myself at the famed El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, waiting for this new update to begin. As a critic amongst critic peers, sitting in a mostly family-and-kids packed screening, I put on my 3-D glasses, and after seeing the opening, iconic, Disney castle and logo fill the screen, we are all one theatre, pulled into a truly amazing, fully digitally animated world that is the Jungle Book for a new generation.
This year’s remake of the same name, The Jungle Book brings to the screen the same heart-warming story as the 1967 version, but in dazzling and brilliantly rendered CGI animation (parents, don’t fear that this new remake is following the trend of “darker” films – save that for 2018’s Warner Brothers version of the remake, simply titled, Jungle Book). The marketing promotes that this film is brought to us “from the Studio that gave us Pirates of the Caribbean,” which smartly reminds us that they know how to adapt rollercoaster ride-to-movie experience. Upon dissolving from the Disney logo, the camera glides and flies, twists and turns, over and under vines and tree branches in ride-like manner, as we follow digitally animated wolves and animals scaling the jungle, as well as our protagonist and our young man-cub.
Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi, is the only human onscreen for the entirety of the movie (again, this film should technically be considered an animated film), and gives the sort of school-play performance. Our young Mowgli, swathed in the same red trunk undergarment, is surrounded by the familiar animal friends we all know and love as part of the Jungle Book-lore – and who are all cast perfectly. As Mowgli’s protective panther Bagheera, who finds and watches over the young child, Ben Kingsley is strong and eloquent with his English dialect, narrating our way in to this new world. As the threatening and snarling tiger Shere Kahn, fellow Brit Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), whose voice you may recognize from the other Disney hit Zootopia, provides the voice of the villain whose distrust of the man-cub sets the story in motion, claiming the young boy is a threat to all of the animal kingdom, vowing to hunt him down to remove him – permanently – from the jungle.
When young Mowgli decides, for the betterment of his family and the rest of the jungle, to leave his wolf family behind, including his mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and father Akela (Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad), he meets the rest of the iconic Jungle Book characters. Credit the film for understanding and playing to all of the characters (and actors) strengths, for the movie blossoms anew in fun in the second act when a lone Mowgli meets his bear pal Baloo, the ever-hilarious Bill Murray.
Murray as Baloo is a delight, and from this point forward, it felt as though the older-aged skewing audience took equal-to-more delight in seeing the lovable bear crack so casually wise as only Murray can. And yes, the iconic songs make the cut here, (Murray’s splashy rendition of “The Bare Necessities” feels like it was performed by Disneyland’s very own New Orleans Square jazz band) but in good restraint. The movie weaves the songs naturally into the story that’s in place, meaning no show-stopping musical numbers here, but that serves the feeling of being a movie all the same. This extends to the other Jungle Book hit “I Wanna Be Like You,” sung by the legendary Christopher Walken, as King Louie gets a massive wide-eyed character redesign akin to a slightly more friendly King Kong – slightly.
The Jungle Book is the latest Disney movie from their animated masterpiece canon to get a “live-action” remake (after Cinderella, and look for the recently announced Emily Blunt-starring Mary Poppins). It’s a through and through adaptation, almost exact copy and paste of the hand-drawn version, and yet it still feels plumb new, every moment of it captivating and eliciting childlike wonder from all. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) whips up a new animated experience for a new generation of kids. Your kids’ kids adaptation will most likely be the Virtual-Reality experience, but for now, the film impresses with its use of digital animation, along with the magic that made it so great – those simple, bare necessities.
105 minutes. Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril. Now playing everywhere.