When wise old panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) discovers a young boy stranded in the jungle, he turns him over to a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), who raise the “man-cub” Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as one of their own. Years pass and a dry season arrives far harsher than any before it, prompting a “water truce” that brings all the animals of the jungle together to drink at Peace Rock. The ferocious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) uses this opportunity to confront the wolf pack, demanding that they turn Mowgli over to him.
Neel Sethi in particular was impressive, demonstrating more authentic interaction with computer imagery than most child actors manage with their own flesh and blood actors. Of the voice actors, I took particular note of Bill Murray as Baloo and Lupita N’yongo as Raksha. Their vocal performances, along with those of the rest of the cast, were filled with emotion and worked very well with the animation that created their characters.
Favreau also demonstrates his great talent behind the camera by not losing himself in an extravaganza of effects, he keeps it simple, concentrating on the story which flows and never stops to make the audience emptily look at an effect just for the sake of shock. He also has to thank John Debney’s score which was a key part of the success of this film. It was never distracting, and he gave many scenes its most important beats. I’ve never heard of this composer before, but he really made himself noticeable with this brilliant score. A score which gives the film a real emotional flow that culminates in a really thrilling climax that by far was the most engrossing part of the film.
These special effects are something to behold. I’m not saying this is the next step for filmmaking, since it clearly is a particular case given the type of film it is, and truthfully it is a case in which the special effects serve and enhance story, still, this is the first time I have ever felt a CGI being so believable and palpable. It did take a couple of minutes to get adjusted to, but once you do you are immersed in a world where you will hardly notice any CGI. The integration of the actor, the jungle and the animals is seamless, it carries weight and not even for one second becomes distracting.
Despite all of these goods, I still found a slight emotional distance with the whole film. I have to point out firstly that it does spoon feed the audience a little too much at moments and does not take advantage of some great visual storytelling opportunities. There is some of that don’t get me wrong, but I definitely felt it could have strengthened its intensity multiple times. To me it never fully manages to transcend its setting and I find it to remain a fantastical story with a good sense of wonder and adventure, some good metaphors, but never being an engrossing mythological tale. I simply don’t find a close connection with the characters which for me don’t elevate their personas to an archetypal status and remain slightly limited to their role in the story.
This film definitely stays in touch with the magic of the jungle seen in the animated film, even if it manifests itself in a different way. The visuals, the cinematography, the music, and the language of the film all work together to create an enchanting atmosphere. Jon Favreau’s interpretation of The Jungle Book joins the elite group of remakes that can be considered justified.