Jon Favreau's live action vision of the Kipling tale is a labour of love, marrying visual majesty with impassioned performances, imbued with the same magic that made Disney's classic so beloved.Brought up by wolves, orphan Mowgli finds his family pack under threat from fierce scarred tiger Shere Khan, who despises humans and wants Mowgli gone. Electing to return to his own kind, the boy-cub takes the long trek through the jungle, shadowed by his devoted guardian and mentor, panther Bagheera. Along the way, he makes plenty of new acquaintances - some friends; some not so much - from the lazy bear Baloo who just wants honey at all costs, to the despot orangutan King Louie who wants the power of the red flower - fire - at all costs. Despite the uphill struggle of competing with - and being directly compared to - such a beloved classic adaptation, Favreau, witty actor and veteran director of the first two Iron Man films, rises to the task and delivers a well-structured and visually striking feature which draws you into a wonderfully constructed and seamlessly blended CG environment almost indistiguishable from the real thing. Although he controversially elects to jettison almost all of the songs that the original musical animation was famous for, this enables a more serious tone to be adopted, with genuine threat and veritably adult characterisations added to this ostensible kid's affair. The result is a rich dish indeed.Rather than the jolly, fun comedy of the animation, Favreau instils modern sensibilities on the various animal creatures, from Ben Kingsley's wise mentor panther, to Bill Murray's honey bear (if they ever wanted to make an 'old' Winnie the Pooh 'live' action feature, he's the man), to Scarlett Johansson's hypnotic temptress python. Yes, perhaps Murray's voice is a little too familiar in some respects, and the same can be said for Idris Elba's villainous tiger (who is arguably far from wrong in his warnings about the threat of humans and 'the red flower'), but both so perfectly bring their characters to life that it's forgivable to, on occasion, imagine it's them rather than their characters who are invading our screens. Perhaps the most striking change is in respect of Christopher Walken's King Louie - lapping up both a demented song piece and also a Marlon Brando-esque turn as a psychotic despot in a jungle locale (a la Apocalypse Now) - superb in a part that has been very satisfyingly fleshed out. As a result, 2016's The Jungle Book should be regarded as a resounding success that invests a whole new generation of children and more than a few adults in a very different animal, which has just as much - and in some respects more - to offer.
Picture QualityEasily one of the best looking titles of the year, The Jungle Book is almost wall-to-wall demo material; with outstanding, lavish, colourful and vibrant visuals across its entire runtime. It's 1080p/AVC-encoded 2D High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen, is reference through and through. Detail impresses at every stage, most notably on the fur of the animals, which makes them as real as CG creatures have ever gotten in the history of visual effects. Bears, tigers, panthers, and monkeys spring to life in all their intricate detail, textured and layered with incredible precision. The colour scheme is as broad as you would have hoped for - within the confines of something ostensibly real - and black levels round out an astounding visual presentation.
2016's The Jungle Book looks simply stunning
The 1080p/MVC-encoded 3D presentation, in the same ratio, is also somewhat demo worthy, although hard to regard as hitting the same high reference standards of the 2D, but only due to the fact that the 2D is just so damn good. The 3D does have its own benefits, and even the 2D presentation showcases the remnants of quite obvious 3D design, which comes to life in the 3D variation as characters and objects are wonderfully textured and promoted at distinguishable levels into the picture, with tangible depth and a very natural roundedness. Whether it's Baloo clomping along besides Mowgli, or King Louie peering out of the shadows, there objects take on a new dimension of life here. For many, understandably, the 2D will either be the only choice or the preferred choice, but the 3D is a great experience too.
Sound QualityPresented with an equally stunning DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, The Jungle Book excels on the aural front too, delivering in every respect, from the acutely observed vocals from the myriad, distinctive, voice performers to the wonderfully discrete effects that are clinically disseminated across the array, to the superior score which pervades the piece, peppered with a couple of welcome song tracks nodding warmly to the original.
The accompanying soundtrack further draws you into this wonderful adventure
The dialogue takes centre stage - quite literally across the centre channel - whilst effects ignite the surrounds, with mudslides and storms engulfing you; rushing water sweeping you away; and crumbling pyramids burying you. The various characters - animals - are all given a distinct slant, as Shere's growl cracks out across the array and even Baloo brings a deafening roar to bear. The score further drives the emotional core of the piece, both cherishing the classic original and revelling in the mood and tone of this new vision. For once the sound designers resist the temptation to drown the mix in low frequency effects, instead saving them for when they are needed such as the arrival of the elephants, the mudslide or the collapsing temple. All-in-all this is outstanding work.
Steelbook ExtrasAlthough, on the face of it, there are only a few extra features, they are very good choices. Headlined by an excellent Audio Commentary by Director Jon Favreau, where he gets to show both his passion for the project and his filmmaking prowess, there's also a solid Documentary - The Jungle Book Reimagined - which spends over half an hour looking at the work that went into bringing this project to live-action life. I Am Mowgli spends 8 minutes looking at the casting process that led to the casting of an unknown boy in the central role, whilst King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer spends a few minutes looking behind this song number and the effects that brought the scene to visual life. The disc is rounded off by some Preview Trailers.
A welcome selection of solid extras graces this release, which is let down somewhat by a fairly disappointing steelbook design
Whether or not you saw the mock-ups of Zavvi's exclusive UK steelbook release, the final artwork (a zoomed-in / cropped version of the original image) is amidst their less impressive Disney offerings. The title-less design (with faces/characters on the title-less spine) is in-line with their Marvel output, and with some of their more recent releases, but doesn't quite match up to some of the earlier classics. The lack of effort that has gone into the finished product appears evident however, with both the lack of frame and embossing letting the otherwise top tier title slide by, Force Awakens-style.
VerdictThis majestic live-action reimagining of The Jungle Book is a must-see both for fans of the original and whole new audiences
The UK 2D/3D Blu-ray release provides outstanding, demo video and audio - reference in many respects, and the clutch of extras are thoughtful and surprisingly substantial, all of which is only marginally brought down by a disappointing-in-hand Steelbook edition from Zavvi which does not stand up well alongside the rest of Disney's collection.
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