Now on Blu-ray: The Technical Marvel of ‘The Jungle Book’

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Jungle Book Blu-ray

One of the more fascinating trends in recent cinema has been Disney’s recent live-action remakes of their animated classics. From a business angle it makes sense – studios are reluctant to make movies that don’t have a form of existing brand recognition, and the expansive Disney catalogue is full of recognizable and beloved properties. From a cinematic standpoint, it’s not quite so cut and dry. After all, we’re inundated with remakes of inferior quality, and there’s a certain level of cynicism that each successive remake brings – “Oh, they’re remaking that.” With the notable exceptions of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, most of the revived animated classics have turned out to be quite excellent movies. Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book turned out to be one of this year’s biggest surprises – visually stunning, thematically resounding, and an improvement on the original. And audiences reacted to the film’s quality. Amazingly, The Jungle Book outgrossed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice at the international and domestic box office. If you said you saw that coming, you’re just a liar.

Those familiar with either the original animated film or the story by Rudyard Kipling know the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the young boy found in the jungle and raised by wolves. Mowgli’s wolf parents Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) raise him as one of their own, abiding by the rules that govern the jungle with the help of the wise, caring panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). The threats of the nefarious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) force Mowgli from the only life he’s ever known, where he eventually makes friends with the lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Mowgli must survive in the jungle without the support system he’s had since his youth, and always fearing the scarred face of Shere Khan who is never far from striking.

The script by Justin Marks retains the story’s thematic elements of man’s destructive nature towards the environment, which takes on an added relevance with the growing concerns of climate change. The technological advances in computer animation and motion capture make these animals incredibly photo realistic and the impressive voice talent works with the visuals to bring the film’s emotional aspects to the forefront and with more power than ever before.

Of the vocal cast, the real standouts are the tender vocal work of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, the booming, intimidating voice of Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and an astoundingly amusing appearance by Christopher Walken as King Louie. Other performances from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson aid the film greatly, as the movie goes through a range of emotions – humor, terror, suspense, and tragedy.

Among the special features on the Blu-ray of The Jungle Book is audio commentary by director Jon Favreau, where he explains in detail the various challenges faced in bringing this version of the story to the big screen. Favreau is quick to praise his expansive team of animators and screenwriter Justin Marks in helping bring this vision to life. Where most movies so reliant on special effects have lost the “How did they do that?” magic of old cinema, The Jungle Book blends the animation and live-action in such a way that Favreau’s explanations provide a depth that extends beyond a simple answer of “CGI.”

The most fascinating of the special features on the Blu-ray set is The Jungle Book Reimagined, an extensive look at the film from its inception to its completion. It starts out with an amusing anecdote about Jon Favreau meeting Disney chief Alan Horn about The Jungle Book on the same day it was announced that Disney had acquired Star Wars, setting speculation that Favreau would be helming a Star Wars movie into motion. From all the technical aspects that they undertook to the attempts to make something different that still honored the original are all documented in this in-depth documentary. Complimenting the in-depth documentary of The Jungle Book Reimagined is a short featurette on young Neel Sethi and the rigorous shoot that the young actor was subjected to over the course of the film’s production. Every one of the special features does wonders in explaining the movie magic that’s employed, and how the techniques that Favreau used aided the finished film.

The Jungle Book is a technical marvel that continues the Disney tradition of groundbreaking visual work, but it’s also a film with real heart, continuing that Disney tradition as well. Remakes are such tricky business to bring to the screen, and blending the familiar with something new is difficult tightrope to balance on. Jon Favreau and company did that with The Jungle Book. Its successes diminish the cynicism that the endless succession of remakes bring. This is a great piece of storytelling that hits all the notes that it aims for. All the other remakes should be sitting around looking at The Jungle Book and singing “I Wanna Be Like You.”

The Jungle Book
  • Overall Score


A technical marvel with an emotional core, The Jungle Book updates the classic animated tale and injects it with new life in a story that will endure for generations.

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