Film Review: The Jungle Book (★★★½)

THE JUNGLE BOOKAnticipating the live action adaptations of some of our beloved animated classics of our childhood has been a task to endure.  Add that with an even grueling process of waiting for “The Jungle Book,” as directed by “Iron Man” director Jon Faverau, and you would find my expectations down with anything surrounding another “Scary Movie” sequel and any future remake of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  In the life of a someone who loves and adores movies, the best feeling is when a movie is anticipated to be a travesty and the final result is nothing short of spectacular delight.  Walt Disney’s live-action take on Rudyard Kipling’s beloved classic so equal parts awe-inspiring visuals and compelling storytelling procedures.  Tugging at the heartstrings on multiple occasions, there’s a simplicity found in the construction of a film that was likely very hard to put together.

Standing out, besides obviously the stunning visual components, is the impeccable voice work of the cast.  Wouldn’t we all love to see Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, and Lupita Nyong’o, all standing side-by-side in a movie?  Well, their voices will have to suffice and they are more than satisfying as all, in particular Murray and Elba, all deliver outstanding vocal performances.  More proof, among many examples, that the Academy Awards is in desperate need of a hybrid category that recognizes not only voice work but motion capture.  Elba’s villainous and calculated turn stands up there proudly with the Jeremy Irons’ (“The Lion King”) and Pat Carroll’s (“The Little Mermaid”) as one of the best ever witnessed for a Disney villain.

Newcomer Neel Sethi, as the charming and endearing Mowgli is a breakout star that warms the cinematic soul.  Not just utilizing his “cute kid” factor, Sethi has talent to carry the film impeccably.  It’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood utilizes him in the future, if at all.

jungleDirector Jon Faverau achieves his finest filmmaking endeavor to date.  In a spectacle that seems so much bigger beyond his capabilities, he handles the source material with strength and confidence.  He assembles a striking technical team in cinematographer Bill Pope, who is a master of the action lens.  John Debney‘s beautiful score is both subtle yet ramps up in the most pivotal moments.  Christopher Glass‘ production design with Amanda Moss Serino‘s set decoration is something that will likely be on the lips and minds of awards voters by year’s end.

If you’re looking for a fault, I would have loved to see the deep, emotional story being told solely without the two musical numbers that just hawk back to the animated original.  I’m a sucker for a good “Bear Necessities,” and it was awesome to hear Bill Murray let loose in that way, same for Christopher Walken’s “I Wanna Be Like You,” but it stopped the tone that the film was capturing successfully, and brings it to a halt.  While some will disagree, I like the direction that Disney chose to go with the narrative, as it even felt like the live action version of “The Lion King.”

All in all, “The Jungle Book” lives ferociously in its world of effects and story, bringing forth some much needed balance to a superhero-driven universe, and adding in counter programming that feels authentically real for the first time in a live action adaptation.  It’s a purely beautiful tale that will capture the hearts and souls of your entire family.  Let it in.

“The Jungle Book” hits theaters this Friday.