I don’t know if it’s just pure cinematic genius or if my senses are just so easily fooled, but except in rare instances was I able to discern where real life ended and special effects began. And to be honest, I don’t even know if I actually was able to or if I was just guessing. Coming in at #5 in worldwide and domestic box office gross, The Jungle Book went beyond the expectations of pretty much everyone, but it was so engrossing and so amazing people were just pulled into this cinematic experience.
The home release (on BluRay and on Digital HD) makes that jaw-dropping visual artistry even more spectacular. When you see what went into bringing this film to life, you just wonder where Jon Favreau and his team came up with the ideas to make what was already stunning even more lifelike. Creating animatics to simulate shadows, hiring puppeteers to work with Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli to help him with character reference, creating a variable moving walkway to simulate uneven terrain – wow. Who does that? Apparently, this group of filmmakers did.
Jon was also very aware of the place the original Jungle Book plays in the history of Disney animation. He went to great lengths to make sure this film, while being one of the most visually vibrant and effects-laden ever made, also had the heart of the original. In the featurette, “The Jungle Book Revisited,” Jon remembers the original treatment they pitched and said it was a lot more true to Kipling but “far removed” from the animated film he grew up with. He also mentioned it would be way more violent and he wanted to find the “sweet spot” between that version and the beloved one most of us know. He said, “It wasn’t going to be a G-rated musical, but I didn’t want it to be something that was so intense that it couldn’t have the tonal variety that the classic Disney films had.”
To that end, Jon paid homage to classic Disney animation techniques right from the opening of the film to the end. From using a multi-plane camera and painted cels at the beginning (like they did back when the film was originally made) to utilizing the actual book prop from the original film at the end, Jon and the team wanted to be sure to truly reference the original Disney version of the film. He included just enough of the touches from the animated version (like singing “The Bare Necessities”) to keep it rooted in its history, but made enough differences to make it its own film.
If you loved the film, the BluRay is a welcome addition to your collection. It includes not only all the amazing background in the making of the film, but also some amazing extras like how they put together the song “I Wanna Be Like You.” They intersperse storyboards with rough cuts and early stage computer animation with the finished product so you get a good overview of the entire scene. And they did a featurette called “I Am Mowgli” which showcased not only Neel as Mowgli but his relationship with Jon. I think the only thing that bothered me was how often Jon referred to Neel as “the kid.” But it was obvious from the featurette that he really took the time to relate to Neel and bond with him in a way to get the most out of this difficult shoot. The only thing I wish was included in the home release were deleted scenes. But maybe they didn’t have any?
The Jungle Book is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It is available through Disney Movies Anywhere, Amazon.com, and retailers and digital stores everywhere.