The Jungle Book
Just when you think you have seen the best CGI special effects ever, that you can never be amazed like that again, another movie comes along that blows you away. This is that movie. It is now totally impossible to visually tell a CGI animal from a real one. The only way you can be sure is if that animal does something a real animal can’t, like talk. There are around seventy different species of animals native to the Indian sub-continent represented here, each one totally accurate to the last pinfeather, hair, and probably even flea. There have to be at least four or five hundred monkeys of several species in the abandoned temple in the jungle where King Louis the Gigantopithecus resides.
The state of the art sure changes, doesn’t it? When there was a huge stampede of water buffalo, I was reminded of the stampede that killed Simba’s father in The Lion King. That was about the outer limit of what could be done with cel animation in 1994. I remember Tron, celebrated at the time for the first use of CGI, ridiculously expensive to make (and with many fewer actual CGI scenes than we were led to believe at the time), incredibly mingy-looking today. Or Dinosaur, which had a little furry creature with something like 100,000 individually-animated hairs, which was phenomenal at the time.
I could rhapsodize longer about the visuals, which would be reason enough to see the film, but what about the most important thing, the story? I’m happy to report that it’s a good one. I don’t remember enough of the Kipling tales this and the original movie was based on, but I don’t care. All these photo-real characters are interesting, and Mowgli’s journey is absorbing. Neel Sethi, the kid playing the wolf-boy, is terrific. The voice cast is terrific, too, with Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, the really big snake, Ben Kingsley as Bhageera the panther, and Idris Elba as the super-scary Shere Khan, the tiger. I hadn’t expected that there would be songs, but three of them (two by the great Richard and Robert Sherman; Richard is still alive!) are reprised: “The Bare Necessities,” sung by Phil Harris in the original, by Murray here; “Trust in Me,” sung by Johansson; and the really amazing one, “I Wan’na Be Like You,” sung by Louis Prima back then, and by Walken now. He was great! He is a wonderful dancer, and a fun singer. Richard Sherman wrote some new lyrics, and they are great, too. In short, I can’t find a thing to criticize here, and that’s as good as it gets. I only wish we had seen it in IMAX 3D.