"You must be the very worst wolf I've ever seen."
It's quite possible that 2016 could be labeled "The Summer of the Remake." While reboots and remakes of hit properties are nothing new, it does feel like it has come to a head. As many of these films fail to define their purpose for existing beyond being an obvious cash grab, it is important to step back and see that some of these films are worthwhile endeavors. Such is the case with Director Jon Favreau's take on the Rudyard Kipling classic. It's a masterful blend of familiar elements from the original animated film while bringing in new culturally relevant themes and some stunning visual effects work to make a film that feels fresh and fun and most importantly - entertaining.
Considering the standing of the Wolfgang Reitherman animated classic Disney film from 1967, it feels like a redundancy to continue onward with my traditional story rundown of this film. Like it's 2015 compatriot 'Cinderella,' 'The Jungle Book' is Disney's latest entry in an ongoing effort to take one of their older properties and breathe some live-action life into it. Considering this is actually Disney's second live action adaption of the story, I was surprised at how fresh and fun the film was while retaining some familiar elements of the original animated feature. Part of me wants to feel jaded and express my frustration that this version of 'The Jungle Book' exists at all, but I can't. The film is too much fun to disregard in such a way.
What helps this film define its reason for existing is its sense of heart and humanity - in a film with only one human character and a ton of animated creatures. Granted anthropomorphized animals are nothing new to film, they're a staple of allegory, but how they're personified here was really exciting. As Mowgli (Neel Sethi) walks among these CGI creations, the voice cast sounds organic to their animal counterparts. Ben Kingsley fits the mentor role of the panther Bagheera as if it was a role specifically written for him. Lupita Nyong'o's Raksha feels alive with a mother's concern as Giancarlo Esposito's Akela stands a father-like figure who must do what's best for his pack while keeping the best interest for his adopted man-cub son at heart. Bill Murray's goofball Baloo is spot-on voice casting. Getting a little kid to get honey out of a gigantic bee's nest sounds like something Murray would do in real life. Scarlett Johansson is fun as the slithery Kaa while Christopher Walken gives King Louie a humorous mafioso quality. That said, the real stand out of the already talented voice cast is Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan. Considering Elba also lent his voice to Disney's 'Zootopia' and Pixar's 'Finding Dory,' on top of his fantastic turn in 'Star Trek Beyond,' his Shere Khan is a menacing delight. As an added joy for voice casting, keep an ear out for the voice of the late Garry Shandling as the neurotically hilarious porcupine - he doesn't have much to do but he steals a lot of scenes.
Added to the impressive voice casting and performances, 'The Jungle Book' is filled with weighty and relevant themes that don't overplay their hands and dampen the fun. On the surface there is the notion of humanity's place on the world stage and how our actions have consequences - intentional or otherwise. It would be easy to write the imagery of a jungle on fire as a overdone pro-environmental message, but that would narrow the focus to a singular political point. Instead I like to think of this as a warning of the dangers of gut reaction action. While Mowgli may not have intended to start a fire and was just trying to help, this moment shows the outcome of having a lack of forethought. On top of that, 'The Jungle Book' plays beautifully with the ideas of what constitutes family. Is it strictly the people that you're born from or could it be the community of friends you cultivate? Just because they're not blood doesn't mean they're not equally important or impactful to your life's trajectory.
As much fun and excitement as 'The Jungle Book' has to offer, tonally it does have some inconsistencies. While the themes and ideas within the story are welcome, the film constantly teeters between the extremes of being goofy silly fun and being dark, menacing, and outright scary in some places. I guess that's what happens when you have Billy Murray voicing the lovable Baloo while Idris Elba gets to chew some villainy scenery as Shere Khan. 'The Jungle Book' never really finds a balance. The first half of the film plays much like a number of modern kids films with some entertaining yet heavy material, and that's fine, it works wonderfully. However, the second half feels like it suddenly remembered it was based off a beloved animated movie and there are little kids in the audience and pitches towards being goofball entertainment complete with a lesson on the simple bare necessities of life. While Mowgli is out having a dandy of a time using his "tricks" to collect honey - his wolf pack family and jungle friends are under the tight and deadly rule of Shere Khan. It's a duality that never really finds its stride so as the story progresses you can almost feel Favreau and his writer Justin Marks remind themselves 'The Jungle Book' should also have some fun with itself.
'The Jungle Book' may not be a perfect film, but it is some rock solid entertainment. As the summer season was getting going, 2016 was chugging along as a pretty good year for summertime films. However, as one after another needless sequel or remake failed or underperformed at the box office, I didn't expect 'The Jungle Book' to stand out as a bright spot of the season. With 'Captain America: Civil War,' 'Zootopia,' and 'Finding Dory,' Disney had a hell of a great summer - well maybe not with 'Alice Through The Looking Glass.' A lot of credit for the success of 'The Jungle Book' is due to the impressive cast of actors and Favreau for crafting a relevant and entertaining big budget spectacle of a movie. That said, credit must be given to the cadre of animators who brought this film to life - without them these incredible life-like CGI creatures that managed to entertain us and make us feel the feels for 100 minutes would have just been a bunch of tennis balls on sticks or dots on a brightly colored screen. At the end of the day, 'The Jungle Book' of 2016 is the remake you may never have thought you needed to see, but is well worth the time and certainly worth having on your shelf.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Jungle Book' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Disney in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD with Digital HD set. Pressed on a Region Free BD50 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray snapping case and an identical slip cover with each disk getting it's own shelf to rest on. The disc opens with trailers for other upcoming Disney releases including the teaser trailer for 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included inside is a flier advertising the Disney Movie club along with the Digital HD copy redemption slip sealed in plastic wrap for some reason.
As should be expected, 'The Jungle Book' offers up a near flawless 2D 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Given that this was shot digitally, this film bathes itself in sharp detail and sumptuous colors. From the jungle floor to the treetop canopy, you can bathe in the fine details. Everything from the small cuts and scars Mowgli exhibits from his early years learning to be a wolf right down to the individual hairs on the CGI animals is on screen. Colors are bright and vibrant as they tend to favor more golden earth tones. Primaries have a wonderful pop to them, especially reds and blues. Greens are lush and vivid as well creating a color pallet that plays homage to the original animated film while maintaining a natural and realistic feel. Black levels are rich and inky for most sequences and offers up some fine shadow separation so the image maintains a three-dimensional feel to it.
That said, since this film was shot with 3D in mind, this 2D presentation can feel a tad flat in some spaces. There are more than a few CGI elements that were obviously conceived and executed to provide that 3D pop out look. In 2D they loose their desired punch and can feel a bit out of place. This is particularly evident during the scene where Mowgli meets with King Louie. The CGI orangutan has a few moments of looking like a flat screen image without the extra depth 3D can provide even if it's a humorous homage to 'Apocalypse Now.' Altogether not a deal breaker but it was a notable effect that I didn't notice during my theatrical viewing experience. Hopefully, Disney will drop this onto 3D Blu-ray here in North America someday soon as it is apparently being released day and date in 3D throughout the rest of the world. That said, this 2D presentation is pretty darn gorgeous.
On top of the incredible visual range, 'The Jungle Book' has to offer, it comes packed with a thunderously exciting DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio mix. While exhibited in ATMOS, Disney has decided to opt out of offering that track for the time being much to the chagrin of fans. That said, this 7.1 mix is an absolute beast. As the film quickly tosses you into the action with a fun chase sequence where Mowgli tries to outrun his wolf pack brethren, you're practically enveloped in sound. Fronts, sides, rears - all are in constant action and make you feel part of the world. Dialogue keeps to the front/center channels for the most part with some exception made for when a character is off-screen. Sound effects and atmospherics make the audio feel open with plenty of dimension and range. The animal roars and the footfalls of the elephants give the track a nice tonal balance and can really push the LFE. The real star of the lower tones is the buffalo stampede as it sounds like a parade of thunder circling you while the beasts charge past the young boy.
John Debney's fantastic score rests seamlessly and unobtrusively within the film perfectly accentuating the important moments without drowning out the other elements. As I mentioned, the audio constantly makes use of its surround channels providing a fun use of imaging as something is always moving or making a sound to pull your ear in a different direction. Likewise, levels are pitch perfect. Even during the big action moments I never felt like I had to keep my thumb on the volume. Just set it and forget it and you should have a great time. If you're on the ATMOS train, the failure to include that track is about the only negative I can say about the audio. As a standard 7.1 mix, this thing sounds flawless and I loved having my volume cranked for this one.
Audio Commentary: John Favreau flies solo for this extensive and fun commentary track. He's got a lot to say about how things were shot and points out what had to be done in CGI and what wasn't. It's good stuff, very informative and he keeps the thing moving without too many pauses. He gives a great amount of time detailing Garry Shandling's many contributions to the film and it's clear Favreau has a lot of love for the man.
'The Jungle Book' Reimagined: (HD 35:02) This is a pretty cool little extra feature with Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor, and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato. It's done as a staged-but-impromptu coffee meeting where the three men talk about the genesis of the project, shooting the movie, working with the CGI and practical elements.
I Am Mowgli: (HD 8:18) This is a very quick little extra feature about casting Neel Sethi as Mowgli as a first-time actor.
King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer: (HD 3:14) This is a very short, but fascinating look at the creation of this song from scoring to animation to recording Walken's voice work.
When 'The Jungle Book' was announced, I admit to rolling my eyes at the thought of yet another live action adaptation of a Disney animated feature. Then the film came out and I started hearing all of the good word-of-mouth. I'm glad I checked this out in theaters when I could because it was a heck of a lot of fun and it was a kick to see little kids in the audience have their minds blown away by the visual effects. In my eyes, it's one of Disney's better live action adaptations and gives me hope for how 'Beauty and the Beast' may turn out. Disney brings the film to Blu-ray in a fine little package with an absolutely fantastic - if expected - A/V presentation. Extras are informative but a bit skimpy and some more features about the production would have been great to see. Also, alas, no 3D edition here stateside, so if 3D is your bag, you're going to have to wait. At the end of the day, this 2D Blu-ray release is well worth adding to your collection and comes highly recommended.