Full disclosure: the original 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book is one of my favorite Disney films. So when I first heard that it was added to the crop of “live-action remakes,” I was apprehensive but cautiously optimistic. I wasn’t quite sure how they’d be able to pull off the whole talking animals thing and still make it feel realistic.
The more I saw about the movie, the more intrigued I became. And then when I heard mostly positive reviews flowing in, I was fully on board. But I have to admit that I never actually saw the film in the theaters. Life got in the way (as happens with young kids), and we just never found the time.
So I jumped on the opportunity to finally watch the film now that it’s out on blu-ray and available to stream. And the reviews, hype, and hooplah that surrounded the film didn’t set it up for failure. When we finally popped in the blu-ray for family movie night, it was a resounding success. The kids were amazed and tried to figure out how the movie was made, and I was thrilled to see a new take on these characters (and songs).
At this point, there’s really not much I can say about the film that hasn’t been said. It’s a visual marvel that defies reality, and Neel Sethi is absolutely incredible as the sole on-screen human character. It kind of blows my mind that a 12-year-old newcomer could basically carry the entire movie and film an entire movie against green screen. The Jungle Book really stretches the definition of “live-action remake” since it’s almost entirely computer animated.
All of the voice actors are phenomenal, and the film gathers together some of the best actors working today. However, Bill Murray as Baloo absolutely steals the show. Once he shows up, everyone else pales in comparison.
Since I’m an unabashed fan of physical media and special features, I delight in the extras these discs have. How does The Jungle Book measure up? Here’s what’s included on the blu-ray…
The Jungle Book Reimagined is a 34-minute documentary on the making of the film, mostly driven by interviews with director Jon Favreau. It’s a fascinating insight into how the movie got made, especially since Favreau had the same initial concerns as I did about bringing this particular story back as a “live-action” version. The peek behind the curtain to see how the animals (100% of which were computer generated) came to life, how Neel Sethi interacted with his virtual costars and environment, and how they re-created an Indian jungle from more than a century ago in modern-day Los Angeles.
And the songs. It wouldn’t be The Jungle Book without “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” and – god bless Jon Favreau – he brought in Disney Legend Richard Sherman to write some new verses and consult.
What I love about this new crop of films (and the people involved in making them) is the love they obviously have for the source material and the callbacks they include in the new films to the originals. For example? The book that appears at the end of the film is the exact same book that appeared at the beginning of the ’67 original. And the opening of the film with the castle and title sequence? Animated by hand…
I Am Mowgli is an 8-minute spotlight on Neel Sethi, how they found him, and a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of Neel on set. His wonder and amazement at the whole process is palpable and adorable. But I mean, come on, The Jungle Book redefines movie magic, so I can’t imagine I would be any less awestruck.
King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer is a quick 3-minute look at the music, computer graphics, and special effects of the King Louie sequence. And Christopher Walken. Lots and lots of Walken.
That’s pretty much it. There’s not a ton of special features, but the blu-ray also includes a full-length audio commentary with Jon Favreau that provides even more insight into the making of the film and a code to redeem for a digital version to play on any device that can access Disney Movies Anywhere.
(Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of this film. All opinions remain my own.)