Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, Idris Elba
The Jungle Book is that rare thing––a movie that can be all things to all people. It's an exhilarating adventure for children. But it also makes the adults accompanying them ponder the big themes—home, belonging, courage, our place in the world. It's a film that will push merchandise and fuel theme parks but it's also a magical, immersive, visual experience that will make families bond in the best way possible.
Director Jon Favreau's retelling of Rudyard Kipling's beloved book is a soaring, adrenaline-charged ride. But it also hits your heart. At one point I found myself crying in a scene with a CGI wolf. I had forgotten that almost all of these characters were constructed in a computer. That's the level of artistry here.
Favreau and his army of technicians use CGI and motion capture to create an entirely believable world. The first few minutes are so visceral that you are instantly transported to the jungle. Which is, of course, wild and dangerous but also majestic and grand. These animals and their way of being, their interactions with each other seem more civilized and humane. You know that it's better for Mowgli the man-cub to stay with these magnificent creatures rather than go to the village because that's where the real jungle is.
It also helps that these creatures are voiced by brilliant artists who imbue them with genuine personality – Sir Ben Kingsley as Bhageera; Bill Murray as Baloo the bear; Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha and Idris Elba as Shere Khan are mesmerizing.
So is 12-year-old Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Neel nonchalantly carries this epic saga on his tiny shoulders. He isn't really acting. He's being. Neel is convincingly brave, vulnerable and stubborn. He just fits. Be ready for a dip in the second half when a sort of sameness creeps in. But then Favreau whips up excitement again in a gorgeous, suspenseful climax.
The beauty of cinema is that for the price of a ticket, you can travel. Of course there are so many distractions now that it's getting harder and harder to leave reality behind. The Jungle Book manages to wholly disconnect us from our world.