Jon Favreau has had an interesting and varied career writing, acting in, and directing everything from indie fare (emerging with the acerbic yet sweet ‘Swingers’) to big-budget franchises (he ushered in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his ‘Iron Man’ films). When looking at his filmography, a pattern starts to emerge – an uncanny ability to take a subject with mass appeal, infuse it with an un-ironic sensibility, utilize convincing special effects, and craft solid, indelible entertainment. This talent is on full display with his latest foray into family fare, an intricately realized, confidently acted, if a bit old-fashioned, hybrid adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book,’ through the Disney cartoon version’s lens.
The film wisely blends the vibrant and fun animated Disney classic with the heavier, allegorical classic novel to create something that could only be made with modern technology. The animals, vocalized by an array of strong acting talent (Idris Elba, Lupita N’yongo, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johannson), are paired with photo-real animation so detailed that they come to glorious cinematic life rivaling any CGI creations yet. One can only imagine the thrill children receive in losing themselves over to these fully realized characters, and adults will marvel at the painstaking care these talented animators have taken in bringing this vision forward.
With this type of innocuous material, special effects and subdued PG-rated spectacle can only take the movie so far, so Favreau and company interject a couple of MVP acting talents into the mix to invigorate two fan favorite characters from the animated classic – Bill Murray, as the incorrigibly blasé sloth bear Baloo, and Christopher Walken, as the fire-coveting, Gigantapithecus ape, King Louie. These two actors elevate a story that starts to lose steam as newcomer Neel Sethi (Mowgli) stumbles over some difficult exchanges (he does a great, but almost impossible job, as a child actor playing around in a complete green screen environment). The comic relief is a welcome respite from a screenplay that starts to bog down. It’s Mowgli’s relationship with Baloo that winds up forming the heart of the story and Murray’s lazy delivery, at first as a character reeking of opportunism, gradually morphs into true concern and love for the orphan. It all comes together into a very pleasant and transporting movie-going experience, and more importantly (and rarely in this cynical age) one that can be shared with families of all ages for many years to come . . .
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Written By: Justin Marks
Running Time: 106 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B