On the DVD audio commentary for his 2001 directorial effort, Made, Jon Favreau teams with co-star, Vince Vaughn, for an F-bomb count on one of the film’s more full-tilt scenes. Hilariously, the pair come up with a result in double figures. It’s hard to believe, but that man with the one-time foul mouth is now an assured and studio-prized director of family films. With 2003’s Elf, Favreau crafted one of the best Christmas movies ever made, while 2005’s Zathura is a feat of imagination, and his films for Marvel Studios (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) succeeded in launching that nascent Hollywood powerhouse. Favreau now turns his keen, expressive eye upon a classic with The Jungle Book, and summarily proves that you can make a rich, fun, and profoundly moving film with the infamously chilly techniques of motion capture and CGI.
Based on a series of collected short stories penned by the legendary Rudyard Kipling in the late 1800s, The Jungle Book tells of Mowgli (charmingly played by Neel Sethi, an unknown young actor who is the only substantial human character in the film), a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle with the help of an extraordinarily crafted collection of animals: his adoptive parents, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o); the sweet but manipulative Baloo the bear (Bill Murray); and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the noble black panther. Enemies, meanwhile, come in the form of the fearsome tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), and the mob boss-like primate leader, Louie (Christopher Walken). Previously filmed in 1942 (by Zoltan Korda, with Sabu in the role of Mowgli) and 1967 (as an animated feature from Walt Disney), Favreau’s take on the storied source material is wholly contemporary but deeply classical at the same time.
Using 3D and CGI techniques created by James Cameron for Avatar, Favreau achieves the same level of immersion as that blockbuster, constructing a jungle that lives and breathes, and a horde of animals stunning in their realism, despite the fact that every fur-strand was composed in a computer. It’s a testament to the film, however, that you quickly stop marveling at its technical achievements and become drawn into its classic tale of identity and coming of age. Bolstered by a voice cast on top form, and punctuated with moments of thrilling action, The Jungle Book is first class family entertainment from a burgeoning master of the medium.