Jungle Fever (The Jungle Book Review)

A sure classic in its own right.
Forget about your worries and your strife...’coz this movie is magnificent!

I can’t really think of a better way to describe this film except to say that I left the cinema feeling deeply satisfied. I kept telling my friend, “ganda nun ah”, as if she didn’t already hear it the first 3 times or so. It’s not the fist-pump, adrenaline-fueled, Guardians of the Galaxy kind of satisfaction, but the subtler, more soulful, aww-man-was-that-nice kind.

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Mowgli Stark and his Dire Panther. (GoT joke!)

The Jungle Book is the latest of the series of live-action classic Disney animated movie reboots. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, an orphan boy raised as a wolf and as part of a pack. When a spiteful tiger finds out that the wolves are harboring a human, Mowgli is forced to leave the only home he’s ever known. With his panther guardian and friend, Bagheera, and a playful bear he meets along the way, Baloo, Mowgli struggles to figure out who or what he really is while trying to find his new place in the jungle.

It started with Alice in Wonderland, then Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), and then Cinderella, and now The Jungle Book – with all these reboots coming out of old animated movies, I feared it was only a matter of time before it felt gimmicky. Hell, when I found out they were making a live-action version for this film, I couldn’t care less. But so far, luckily, all of these reboots have been wonderfully re-imagined and The Jungle Book was definitely no exception!

If I were Mowgli, I'd hug my animal friends too!

There’s nothing not to like about this movie. Except maybe for a few tonal inconsistencies – which are completely forgivable, btw – and a sporadically indiscernible nighttime panther-tiger fight scene, the story, the characters, the acting and voice acting, and the visual production were all pretty much faultless.

That Neel Sethi kid, who plays Mowgli, was adorable! (As most talented kids are) But props to him for his seamless (what I assume was) tennis ball acting. And let’s not forget that this kid was the only actual actor on screen for a whole 2 hours! That’s pretty incredible!

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Neel Sethi as Mowgli. This kid was incredible!

The rest of the cast were CGI, but their talent still radiated. What else would you expect when you’ve got a powerhouse cast of Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha) and Christopher Walken (King Louie)? Every single one of them (and I do not exaggerate) gave their characters distinction, authority, eloquence, and sharp, penetrating emotion. I especially loved Esposito’s protective and regal Akela, Kingsley’s stern but refined Bagheera, and Elba’s stressfully terrifying Shere Khan.

You know how there are some actors that were meant to play certain roles? 
Like how Morgan Freeman in my head will always be God's voice. 
Well Idris Elba was born to play "egomaniac jungle bully".

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My favorites - Kingley as Bagheera and Esposito as Akela. One of the few times Esposito plays a good guy.

But their animated state never really diminishes the clarity of their portrayals. In fact, the incredibly detailed animation work elegantly accentuates each performance. There are restrained facial ques you catch when characters are feeling joy, or fear, or anger, or pride. The facial detail and the pronounced vocal work unmistakably define each character’s mental and emotional state at any given moment in the story. But the expressions never go overboard; it stays subtle enough to honor the film’s general commitment to realism.

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Nyong'o as Raksha, Walken as King Louie, and Johansson as Kaa.

And commitment it had. These are animals that speak English, so there’s obviously going to be that break from reality, but aside from that fact, you could hardly tell them from the real thing! Their body language and ticks, the character designs, and their natural inclinations were all meticulously taken into account making the CGI practically indistinguishable from the stuff you see on Nat Geo!

The visual excellence doesn’t stop there. The setting, the jungle itself, was a living, breathing, jaw-dropping work of art. The film’s ferocious devotion to detail extends to this majestic and immersive world they’ve built, from Kaa’s dark, damp, treetops, or Baloo’s bright, colorful riverside, each location was as stunning as it was deliberate. Individual locations emanated unique auras and told their own specific stories. This truly was a movie about the jungle in all its unbelievable glory.

Locations are exquisite and never monotonous.

The Jungle Book’s relatively simple narrative was extremely enjoyable as well. It was simultaneously for children and adults, lighthearted and terrifying, straight-forward and reflective. There’s simply something for everyone to enjoy.

It had the most interesting themes – human ingenuity, human nature, the relationship of man and nature and ecological interdependence, and finding one’s identity and place in society – and it’s all presented in a cohesive and compelling manner.

Great visuals and captivating content and you’ve got a film riddled with beautiful moments. It’s essentially an album of breath-taking nature snapshots you want to take home and frame and put up your wall. The special effects with the careful shot composition along with a scene’s emotional gravitas made The Jungle Book a genuinely moving cinematic experience.

Not just filled with beautiful shots, but beautiful MOMENTS.

On a final note, I obviously also have to mention the film’s music. While the reboot doesn’t have the same showiness compared to its source film, the “Bare Necessities” number worked extremely well (if not better than the original!) and it’s in big part thanks to Murray’s musical pizazz. Walken’s “I Want To Be Like You” I thought was less effective though. It gave off a weird vibe - the song itself was intrinsically goofy, but Mowgli and the rest of the scene were screaming doom and gloom. But like I said from the start, as faults go, this barely registers.

Among all the reboots so far, The Jungle Book is probably my favorite. Whether or not you’ve seen the original is irrelevant, you’ll find this movie enjoyable either way. The Jungle Book was a wonderful film that’s consistently good in all respects. The fact that you forget that this is all artificial is a testament to its technical accomplishment, but its beauty isn’t limited to the aesthetics but also in its subject matter and skillful performances. It’s a movie that tickles your senses, as much as it does your mind and heart and it no doubt elevates the classic animated movie to new heights.

Elevates the Jungle Book saga to new heights.


*First seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles!

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