Favreau Brings Back Classic Disney With “The Jungle Book”

By Scott Kurland
Film: The Jungle Book
Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Neel Sethi, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, and Christopher Walken
Rated PG
Director: Jon Favereau

Does anyone truly remember how magical Disney movies used to be? I mean, they’re still great today with all the progress they’re making in animation, but they used to be spectacular back in the 1960's. This was the time period that coined the phrase "Disney Magic." Granted, it was common practice in these days for animators to recycle frames and cut corners in order to finish faster. I only bring this up because this week’s film, “The Jungle Book,” is a remake of the 1967 animated classic of the same name. I was dreading seeing this film because I loved the original so much. Let’s see if Jon Favreau was able to make me like this film shall we?

“The Jungle Book” is the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a "man-cub" raised by wolves in the Jungle. Mowgli has always known he’s a bit different from the other wolves in his pack, but his adoptive mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) remains unconcerned; he is, and will always be, her son. Problems arise when Shere Khan (Idris Elba) a tiger with a hatred of all things human, makes it his mission to kill Mowgli. Now, Mowgli, lead by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) must make the journey to the only place he'll be safe: the “Man Village."  Along the way, Mowgli encounters a giant python named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a giganthropithecus named Louie (Christopher Walken), and a honey-loving bear that sounds a lot like Dr. Peter Venkman. All attempt to stop him from reaching his destination in one way or another. What will become of this man cub? Will he stay in the Jungle? Or will he join another pack?

Whenever Jon Favereau directs a movie, I know he’s going to make it something special. Whether it is making an old-school ABC Christmas special like “Elf”, or bringing “Iron Man” to life, he always nails it whilst finding a way to incorporate his own flare. Once again, he does not dissapoint. Favereau earns the audience’s trust from the opening Disney logo. He doesn’t use the generic 2016 Disney CGI logo we saw in the live action“Cinderella”. He takes us back in time; recreating the 1967 Disney look with the same music and font. This is a director who knows what his audience wants, and what it wants is nostalgia. Last year with “Cinderella,”  I felt like Kenneth Branagh was trying to create this Shakespearean Disney Princess movie. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted old school Disney, and that’s what “The  Jungle Book” is. This is the best Walt Disney movie that Walt never made.

This entire movie rests on the very capable shoulders of a young novice actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli. This is Sethi’s first film, and it’s a strong debut for him. Mowgli has to be strong and brave without knowing he’s being strong and brave. What impressed me the most about Sethi was how well he worked with a virtual set and acted opposite CGI animals. This kid had absolutely nothing to work with, yet you’d believe his heart was breaking as he left his wolf pack. Most of today’s actors have a hard time acting against green-screen anything, and we’re talking award winners here, not a ten year old boy. Sethi pulls off the impossible.

This is one of the first non-animated films where the voice cast is perfect. If you are remaking “The Jungle Book,” you have to replace classic voice actors like Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, not to mention Louis Prima. I mean, how can you even begin to think of replacing Phil Harris? Well, Bill Murray is a great start. Murray has that same easygoing timber to his voice that Harris had and it just works for Baloo. In essence, being a slacker is who Baloo is. Growing up, my favorite Disney characters were Jimminy Cricket and Bagheera. I don’t know why Bagheera, but something about his docile voice really clicked with me. Sir Ben Kingsley has that same commanding voice that Cabot had. When I heard they were remaking “The Jungle Book”, I immediately had Kingsley in mind as Bagheera. What I love about this cast is how ridiculous the cast gets. Idris Elba as Shere Khan is amazing. On top of that, they got Christopher Walken as King Louie and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa….that’s just bonkers casting, and it works. 

“The Jungle Book” from 1967 is a classic film and it’s been remade so many times…..by Disney. They’ve failed so many times, like in 1994 when they made “The Jungle Book” but it was really just “Tarzan”. This time, Disney got it right with the great Jon Favereau, Bill Murray, and, oh... did I mention Richard Sherman the original composer helped as a consultant on this film? Well, he did, and it makes the film that much better. “The Jungle Book” is a stellar family film that everyone will enjoy though it does get frightening at some points. Keep that in mind if you have young children who want to see the film. Regardless, this is a must-see-film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

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