Disney’s ongoing quest to give each of its classic animated stories a live-action makeover reached new heights this year with The Jungle Book, an incredible visual achievement that garnered near-universal critical acclaim on its way to grossing $961 million at the worldwide box office.
There’s a pretty good chance you managed to catch The Jungle Book on the big screen, but in case you missed it, here’s what we said at the time:
Filmed entirely on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles, Favreau and Disney have crafted one of the most incredible technical achievements I’ve ever seen in a film. Not only have the incredibly lifelike animals been rendered through computer wizardry, but so have the environments themselves. From the trees to the grass to the waterfalls, everything you see in The Jungle Book has been manufactured by the most talented digital animators in the industry, and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. There isn’t a single moment that feels fabricated, thanks largely in part to Sethi’s commitment – as a first-time actor performing against a green screen, he completely sells the audience on the idea that everything around him is real. Even though some of his line readings may lack the emotional heft that could have been conveyed by a more seasoned talent, we never question that his friends and their surroundings actually exist.
The Jungle Book packs plenty of emotional wallop, with action sequences that will set heartbeats racing and quieter moments that will have audiences reaching for the nearest tissue. Mowgli’s journey to find his place in the world serves as an allegory – thinly veiled though it may be – about the true nature of family, a message that should come across loud and clear to parents and kids alike. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Favreau delivers that message in such an astonishingly gorgeous package.
In addition to the film itself, which holds up exceptionally well under repeated viewings, the Blu-Ray release of The Jungle Book also includes two notable special features, the first of which is The Jungle Book Reimagined, a 35-minute featurette that offers an in-depth exploration of the filmmaking process. Through behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Jon Favreau, producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, nearly every aspect of the production is explored. It’s a great piece that offers a ton of information, although admittedly I could’ve spent a half hour just on the visual effects alone – seeing how some of the film’s key moments were brought to life should give viewers an even greater appreciation for what Favreau and company have done.
Speaking of Favreau, he also took the time to record a full-length commentary track for The Jungle Book, which offers an impressive level of insight into his own relationship with the source material, and many of the choices he made in adapting the original animated film for today’s audience. I’ve always found Favreau to be an endlessly fascinating figure, and his enthusiasm is both heartwarming and infectious.
Rounding out the supplements are an 8-minute segment called I Am Mowgli, centered on first-time actor Neel Sethi and his performance, along with an incredibly brief look at the creation of King Louie’s temple. These are both fun additions, but lacking in any real depth.
Truth be told, I would’ve been more than willing to purchase The Jungle Book on the strength of the film alone (which I saw three times on the big screen). But the commentary track and the featurette are excellent bonus features, and as usual, Disney remains the gold standard for audio and visual quality in home video releases. I can’t recommend this one enough – it belongs in any Disney film collection.
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On its own merits, the film is more than worth the purchase price, but with the addition of a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette and a director's commentary track, this is an absolute "must buy" for any Disney fan.