Once again, Iron Man director Jon Favreau has magically pulled out another incredibly fun blockbuster from behind Disney’s circular ear. While it tips its hat to the 1967 animated film, this fantastical retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale moves to its own vibrant drum beat with a visual razzle dazzle that takes the tiger from Life of Pi and multiplies it by a whole jungle.
Our hearty young lead Neel Sethi is one of the only things in the film not made by a computer, meaning the digitally-constructed environments feel right in tune with the CG creatures. This also frees the camera to do the physically impossible and the creatively limitless. (A seamless transition from an eyeball to a cave left my own eyeballs flabbergasted.)
Injecting personalities into photorealistic talking animals is its own kind of dangerous wildness/uncanny valley. Fortunately, Favreau overloads the voice acting bases with supreme A-listers like Ben Kingsley as protective parent panther Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o as authoritative mother wolf Raksha, and Bill Murray as a bear version of Bill Murray.
As great as the voice acting is, it’s the characters’ onscreen presence that drives home the performances, none being more distinctive than Idris Elba’s Shere Khan. Using all the movements a tiger can anatomically achieve, from the hunch of braced shoulders to the most casual of alpha-cat struts, he is a vocal and physical force that puts him near the top of evil movie assholes.
It’s a shame that can’t go double for Christopher Walken as King Louie. He would have been 100% great had it not been for his reiteration of I Wanna Be Like You, which ends up feeling embarrassingly out of place.
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