The world was suddenly exposed to the potential of Computer Generated Images (CGI) when Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was released in 1993.
Now, in 2016, Disney has released a new take on the classic story of the Jungle Book with a film made entirely through the use of CGI. Disney’s “The Jungle Book” is a complete spectacle of visual effects, creating animals and jungle environments so realistic, you can’t even tell the difference between its CGI and the real thing.
I feel that the first person who needs to be recognized for his work in the film is Neel Sethi, the young actor who plays the character Mowgli — the only aspect of “The Jungle Book” that is live-action. Sethi filmed all of his scenes in a green-screen studio set with nothing but animal puppets to guide his stellar performance in the film.
Of course, the real heroes of the film are the myriad of CGI artists that labored night and day to make this film look as realistic, beautiful and mesmerizing as it does. The animals look, move and feel so authentic, you are convinced that they filmed real animals.
You can almost feel every hair, leaf, sunset and waterfall as if they are right in front of you. Jon Favreau, the director of the film, is even quoted to have told his CGI artists to tone down the beauty of the shots to make them lose any artificiality that you could potentially catch a glimpse of.
The visual effects are unprecedented as of today, and “The Jungle Book” will be hailed above Avatar as the first big step into the photo-realistic potentials of CGI.
However, “The Jungle Book” isn’t merely a pretty picture to look at. Favreau did a great job of keeping some of the feel and nostalgia of the first Jungle Book animation in the 60s, as well as doing an impressive job of making this interpretation his own.
This reiteration of the classic story really delves deep into the themes of the dangers and beauties of nature and the destruction that man does to nature with their “red flower” — the jungle’s oxymoronic definition of fire.
The film also treats its characters with such love and care, giving each a distinct visual to each of their animals. The film is also not afraid to get dark with its characters, especially when it comes to Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger who lost an eye to Mowgli’s father.
The film centers on this conflict between Mowgli and Khan, a true man vs. nature battle. Shere Khan is a fantastic villain who is best realized in this interpretation of the story. Idris Elba, who voices the character, does a fantastic job of giving Khan a menacing and vengeful tone that looms over the entire jungle.
The rest of the voice actors do an incredible job as well. Bill Murray voices the lovable and lazy Baloo, a lone bear whose initial motivation in the film is to find food and use Mowgli to help him out. This is the Bill Murray that we all know and love, giving witty remarks and sentimental moments just at all the right times. Murray is a stand-out among an already outstanding ensemble of actors and actresses, including Ben Kingsley who takes on the mentor role of Bagheera the black panther effortlessly, and Lupita Nyong’o who voices the motherly wolf Raksha.
Every voice actor is perfectly cast and handles their roles with great care. Christopher Walken’s King Louie, the Bornean orangutan, is such an enjoyable performance that his awkwardly inserted musical number is somewhat forgiven.
Overall, “The Jungle Book” is sure to surprise audiences with the incredible photorealism of the jungle and the perfected ensemble of voices that bring all of the characters we know and love to life. Not only will this version of “The Jungle Book” please fans, but it will surely capture the minds of children.