When I first attended D23 in the summer of 2013, I was skeptical about Disney’s plan to create live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics. Yet after Maleficent in 2014 and last year’s heartfelt and modern recreation of Cinderella, I was surprised to discover that the live action versions offer re-tellings that have genuine entertainment value. It’s a brilliant marketing move, which might make the average parent and movie goer skeptical. Yet one benefit of these live action adaptions is to introduce the classic and traditional stories and fairy tales to a new generation in a way that is updated for modern sensibilities.
The “un-PC” aspects of these stories are minimized or eliminated, and that’s a good thing. Result: Cinderella actually contained an empowering message for girls about courage and kindness. For The Jungle Book live action version, the classic has been updated to a story of survival, kindness and friendship. Mowgli (played by adorable newcomer Neel Sethi) is a modern young hero to whom kids will be able to relate. He’s looking for his place in the order of things as he comes of age. It’s Rudyard Kipling’s familiar story of the boy abandoned in the jungle as a baby, raised by a pack of wolves that he comes to recognize as his family. Mowgli ultimately realizes that his differences are extremely valuable in the jungle’s circle of life.
Rather than exploring or explaining the Colonial backdrop behind the story, The Jungle Book live action focuses exclusively on the bonds Mowgli has formed in the animal kingdom, and it revels in the wonders of nature. In the lush visuals, director Jon Favreau reveals a respect for the majesty of nature. Difficult history lessons shouldn’t be ignored, but can be explored and discussed, I would suggest, in a reading of The Jungle Book tales before or after a viewing of the movie.
I was also skeptical of how lifelike the talking animals would be. A little background: since the disbandment of Rhythm and Hues, the special effects house which brought to life the films Life of Pi and Babe, I was skeptical that any effects house would be able to equal the talents of those artists. The Jungle Book live action pulls it off: the special CGI effects of the talking animals are excellent, very lifelike and not too stiff. This remarkable feat would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Rhythm and Hues. The only giveaway to the animals’ CGI origins that I could observe was that the fast movements of the animals were a bit video-game like. Other than this, they are absolutely seamless and mark a new accomplishment in special effects.
Overall, The Jungle Book live action is an outstanding movie for your family day at the cinema this weekend. One word of warning: several scenes are much too intense for the youngest viewers. Since the animals are “real”, the fights between them are potentially much more terrifying (including one animal character’s untimely death). As long as your kids are over the age of six and not too sensitive to such on-screen intense conflicts, they will thoroughly enjoy the heartfelt story.