While not of the intensely real looking Revenant bear variety, the animals and environment of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book are stupendous. It truly is amazing just how far filmmaking technology has come. Occasionally, you can pick out the seams, like the child actor in front of what is clearly a green screen, or some forced perspective trickery. But these occasions do not harm the film in any way — they only enhance the enjoyment, as you can see how they pieced together the puzzle.

Like a modern day King Kong (and I don’t mean the Peter Jackson version), The Jungle Book is a visual marvel with the noble ability to pull from computer-generated characters such pathos and empathy. In the original King Kong, we actually end up caring about the “monster,” despite him only belting out screams and grunts. In this Jungle Book, we certainly have more to work with. Through the curiosity of man-cub Mowgli – a child left to be raised by wolves – we see panthers, bears, tigers, apes and more, all speaking articulately. Where the movie magic comes into play is in the animated gestures and actions, giving the articulated dialogue fine subtext here and there.

The main villain, a scarred tiger, voiced by Idris Elba, is hunting down Mowgli. In one of the more effective moments, he visits the wolf pack leader, walking with a determined and intentional threat, only to sit calmly by, licking his chops as he rests. They share a conversation about the boy, speaking to each other calmly and respectfully. It’s in their body language – how they are seated, where they are looking – that tells of tension between the two. Tension that could potentially escalate at any minute. My mind raced, thinking of the team behind this scene, realizing more was at work than just the actors and director. It was a collaborative sequence. One of many. And made me remember that most movies work the same way.

The Jungle Book’s stellar visual storytelling and compelling adventure only falls slightly due to a truncated runtime and one awkward musical number. This could just be me nitpicking where its “unnecessary,” but these two factors represent more than just isolated incidents.

The movie’s pace makes the story go by smoothly, but all too quickly. Mowgli befriends and encounters animals without much time to truly bond with them. They meet and immediately like one another. Of course, this is almost how it is in the Star Wars universe, but that still doesn’t make over editing needed. Now, actors like Bill Murray – who voiced Baloo, the bear – have strong enough personalities that bring out more depth in a character with one spoken sentence than an entire film appearance. So, with a ready, willing and able cast, the editor probably could trim scenes to the bone or further without losing any heart.

Still – more heart would’ve been appreciated.

Not goofiness, but heart, mind you. In the most absurd of scenes (yet beautifully rendered), Christopher Walken plays a Mafioso version of King Louie, who wants to make an offer Mowgli can’t refuse, but not before singing a song out of nowhere. It’s a little terrifying, seeing a giant Orangutan act in such a way. It’s also very much silly and overdone. Scale it back and concentrate on what this confrontation represents, and you’ll be as good as gold.

Worth it as pictures in motion alone, The Jungle Book couldn’t be recommended more. My personal dings are just that – dings. Microscopic vulnerabilities in armor that is nearly indestructible. Don’t be afraid to get occasionally teary eyed at its majesty. This is an occasion where that is appropriate.

 

4.5 / 5 *s

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