Blu-ray Review: Disney's The Jungle Book (2016)


This review is based on the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD pack. A 3D Blu-ray will be released later this year, Disney has announced. 

THE SET-UP
Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel is revisited in this live-action version that includes elements of the 1967 animated Disney film. Stars Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Christopher Walken.
Directed by Jon Favreau.

THE DELIVERY
When it was initially announced, I did not have high hopes for Disney’s live-action version of The Jungle Book. Some of Disney’s recent live-action remakes have missed the target, often forgetting what made the originals such classics in the first place. In addition, I am not a fan of CGI, or at the very least the needless overuse of digital graphics. Even though I enjoy Jon Favreau’s films, I wasn’t very excited about a film filled with CGI animals.


Having seen the film in theaters and now on blu-ray, I admit to being totally wrong in my expectations. Favreau’s Jungle Book is a fantastically entertaining adventure that borrows elements from the well-loved animated classic into a totally original vision. In the audio commentary included on the disc, Favreau readily admits to borrowing from the original animated film liberally, as well as using shots to pay homage to other classic films like The Empire Strikes Back to Apocalypse Now.

In the hands of a lesser director, such borrowing would wear thin quickly, but Favreau has become a more seasoned director since Iron Man put him on the A-list. This is not another silly children’s film filled with pop culture references and mindless pandering. The film is far more faithful to the Kipling novel than the 1967 version, but when the story gets a bit too dark (one of the characters is savagely killed by Shere Khan, echoing events in the book) Favreau lightens the mood with a deft touch.

There are some particularly beautiful shots in this film, and the CGI animals provide moments of pure emotion that human actors in other films fail to elicit. The film excels on several levels: the CGI animals are among the finest I’ve ever seen rendered in a film. The fur, the structure, and the physics of their movement are all spot-on. Rarely do CGI graphics fool the eye anymore, a characteristic I find annoying in current films. In The Jungle Book, however, I was mightily impressed with the CGI work, and the ability to blend the real and the digital seamlessly. At times, it looks and feels like one of Disney’s classic real-life adventure films from the 1950s and 1960s. Just with a little Lion King-level of drama mixed in.

Newcomer Neel Sethi does a good job acting against green screen (the entire film was shot in a Los Angeles soundstage), but he does drift into bouts of overacting at times. The voice acting, made up of mostly A-list actors, is quite good, with the exception of the songs. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken just cannot pull off the iconic songs so masterfully delivered in the animated film. Scarlett Johansson fares slightly better, but you find yourself constantly comparing them to the superior 1967 versions. They aren’t terrible, they just are not as good as their predecessors.

Singing aside, The Jungle Book is immensely entertaining. It’s both funny and touching, with a heart that sets it apart from other recent Disney live-action fare. You’ll believe a CGI bear has a soul.


VIDEO AND AUDIO
The high definition transfer here is exceptional. The Jungle Book featured some of the finest CGI animals ever put on film, and every strand of fur is presented in vivid detail. It looks fantastic. Much of the film takes place in the dark or very low light, but the video transfer has no problem distinguishing inky blacks from the various forms of grey without looking muddled.

The audio is a booming 7.1 DTS track, and it handles the extremes of the music and sound effects well. There are some nice surround effects that envelop the listener in a believable jungle atmosphere.

SPECIAL FEATURES 
There isn’t a wealth of extras on the Blu-ray, but the documentary and audio commentary by Favreau are standouts. The extras included on the Blu-ray disc are:

“The Jungle Book Reimagined” documentary. Director Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor, and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato discuss their approach to the film. It is an excellent look at the technical and creative process of making the film. Running time: 35:02

This animated GIF shows the progression from original live action to finished CGI-enhanced scene

“I Am Mowgli” featurette. Neel Sethi, the young actor who plays Mowgli, is profiled in this featurette. Jon Favreau discusses working with Neel (in his first acting role) to get just the right performance, and we get to see a lot of their interaction together on the set. Running time: 8:18

“King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer” featurette. This fun little clip features the different aspects that went into the making of King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You” musical sequence. The “blue screen” and CGI elements, the music, and the performance of Christopher Walken are all featured, and the combination works incredibly well to achieve an iconic scene in the film. Running time: 3:14

Audio Commentary. Director Jon Favreau delivers a nice audio commentary. He is very engaging for a director, providing nice insight with candor about his approach.

Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, compatible with Disney Movies Anywhere, Ultraviolet, and iTunes, is included.

The only extra included on the enclosed DVD is the “King Louie’s Temple” featurette.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Favreau’s Jungle Book stands apart as something special 
Disney’s The Jungle Book could have easily been a mess of CGI and empty, soulless characters, but director Jon Farveau shows a skillful hand in creating an entertaining film with heart. It may be a bit intense for young children, but for most, it is an entertaining ride through the jungle.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Rating: PG
Running Time: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA (Blu-ray only), English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish
Special Features: “The Jungle Book Reimagined” documentary, “I Am Mowgli” featurette, “King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer” featurette, Digital Copy
Audio Commentary: With director Jon Favreau
Label: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Click here to order The Jungle Book on Blu-ray from Amazon!


 

Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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