Major blockbusters have recently run themselves into a corner with their special effects. Films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman have relied on finales and action sequences in which buildings are destroyed left and right, and these incredible superheroes are being beaten to a pulp by their enemies. This all sounds very exciting except for the fact that nobody cares. Nothing on-screen holds any real consequence. The near-invincible men and women almost always walk away from the brawl without a scratch, literal or metaphorical to show for it.
Enter The Jungle Book—Disney’s live-action reimagining of its classic cartoon. While the new film shares many aspects and plot points of its predecessor, it also delves into the darker depths of the jungle, playing with a spectral color palette, grimmer tones, and scarily realistic CGI animals. The original cartoon might be well known for its jazzy, catchy musical numbers, but The Jungle Book will find its place in the hearts and minds of viewers with its attention to character dynamics and stunning special effects and settings.
Following the lines of its predecessor, The Jungle Book follows Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) as he attempts to escape the clutches of the malevolent tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba). Mowgli’s mentors and family figures, Bagheera the black panther (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), Mowgli’s wolf mother, will stop at nothing to see that Mowgli’s safety is guaranteed. Along his journey through the jungle, Mowgli comes across new friends, like Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray), and dastardly fiends, like Kaa the snake (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie the giant orangutan (voiced by Christopher Walken).
These accolade-laden actors lend their voices and motion-captured facial expressions to an extraordinary use for this film. It’s hard to imagine the technology and effort that went into crafting the likenesses of Murray, Walken, and Kingsley onto their animal counterparts, but the familiar faces bring a human essence to the CGI beasts that is at once marvelous, frightening, and accessible.
Murray, Kingsley, and Nyong’o are of special note when it comes to the film’s voice actors. It’s easy to imagine Murray adlibbing some of his funnier lines in a recording studio, and the actor’s light-hearted sound fits Baloo’s carefree character very well. Kingsley’s elegant accent and soothing voice emanate friend Bagheera with grace and unparalleled fluidity. Voicing Mowgli’s wolf mother, Nyong’o crafted a heart-wrenching bond between her character and the man-cub in only a few scenes with the subtle intricacies of her calming, yet authoritative voice. This film’s ensemble of top-notch performers was perfectly chosen and is never under-utilized throughout the film.
Sethi, as Mowgli, deserves the most praise, though. The 10- year-old actor interacted with the sets and CGI characters in an unbelievably realistic manner. It’s hard to spot a single point in the film where Mowgli’s discussions and interactions with the film’s many animals don’t feel genuine, even though he was most likely dealing with puppets in place of the animals that were edited into the film. Sethi also brings a quick wit and sarcasm that are impressive coming from a 10-year-old kid. Child actors can be troublesome to big-budget films like The Jungle Book, but Sethi’s professionalism and synergy with the settings and characters around him is remarkable.
Both the animals and jungle settings are impeccably rendered in The Jungle Book. It is near impossible to tell which sets and which parts of a set are real or fake, while the painstaking effort to have the animals naturally move through and change the environments they inhabit is evident. Many of the action sequences featuring Mowgli running away from a chasing predator or swinging and jumping through the vines and branches of the jungle are thrilling and genuinely impacting. This is where The Jungle Book differs from its blockbuster brethren. With its well-developed character relationships, and near-flawless visual effects, each of the film’s action sequences draws the viewer’s fully tuned attention to the screen.
The Jungle Book doesn’t need to drop cities from the sky or level them with an energy bomb from a horrendous monster in order to grab an audience’s genuine interest. The funny part is, the same effect is still at play among all blockbusters. As a viewer, you know Captain America and Batman aren’t going die, and neither will Mowgli. The difference is, when a film puts time into showing an audience Mowgli and giving us a glimpse of what he means to the world around him, that’s when the audience is afraid they’ll lose him. The Jungle Book doesn’t need huge explosions to impress audiences. It uses the simple, bare necessities.
Featured Image By Walt Disney Studios