by Andrew Santelli
“What do you mean, hippos don’t dance ballet?”
“You’re saying mice and birds can’t make ball gowns overnight? Crazy talk!”
Some of our favorite Disney classics require suspension of disbelief—a willingness to go along with a storyteller—in order to fully enjoy a cinematic experience. But in The Jungle Book, making this imaginative leap isn’t difficult at all. In fact, here are seven moments where it was impossible to separate what we saw on screen with a real, live jungle.
The lion may be known as king of the jungle, but the regal and imposing nature of the elephants in The Jungle Book has to get them entry to that list of royalty. In person, elephants can at once exude power, playfulness, and peace; and in one scene Mowgli encounters a herd that does just that. With camera work that seamlessly brings you eye-to-tusk alongside Mowgli, these pachyderms seemed completely alive.
A Perfect Storm
As Mowgli and his wolf mother, Raksha, walk together in a rainstorm, every droplet falls right where you expect it to, every lightning bolt illuminates the characters at just the right angle—signs of the exacting attention to detail exhibited by director Jon Favreau and his team, not to mention the advancements in the art form of computer animation.
With so many talented, big-name voice actors, not to mention the way Neel Sethi makes us care so deeply about Mowgli, it’s easy to forget about the wild, untamed natural forces at play in The Jungle Book. But as the ferocious Shere Khan and loyal Bagheera tussle in front of nearly the entire animal kingdom (no, not the one in Florida), unleashing their rage, we’re reminded of the power of their animal instincts, as well as the importance Mowgli carries in the minds of each big cat.
Trusssssst In Kaa
When Mowgli first encounters the shifty, slithery Kaa, it’s not just Scarlett Johansson’s voice that puts us in a trance. It’s the colorful hypnosis that comes from the eyes of the snake, taking an iconic moment from the 1967 animated film and bringing you even deeper, in a way only possible with photo-realistic animation (and even more compelling in 3-D), not to mention the underscore of the Sherman brothers’ classic “Trust in Me (The Python’s Song).”
Everybody Wants to Be A Cat
It’s amazing what light conditions do to storytelling, especially when we’re introduced to Bagheera, the smooth-stepping, spirit-soothing panther voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley. When Bagheera emerges from the shadows and the dim light catches his eyes, in that moment he is real.
A Bunch of Swingers
The Jungle Book is filled with scenes that showcase the majesty of nature writ large, like the massive King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken. But when quick, sneaky little monkeys lead Mowgli on a chase through the trees, you see an entirely different side of the forest—and the story. Encountering gibbons we might normally think of as playful, it’s the intricacies of each tiny animal that impressed and gave us the “you are there” feeling.
Grin and Bear It
No discussion of The Jungle Book is complete without Baloo, voiced here with just the right combination of aloof and alert by Bill Murray. As Baloo and Mowgli float down a placid river, with Baloo sharing lessons of “The Bare Necessities” in both story and song, and once again every drop of water hitting Baloo’s fur and Mowgli’s hair just so, it made us think that the animated version of The Jungle Book was based on moments like this, and not the other way around.
In these moments, and plenty more, the real thought we had was “this was filmed on a soundstage in downtown Los Angeles? No way!” But that’s perhaps the signature of this film, that a classic Disney story can be reimagined with new technology and imagination, with an end result unlike anything seen before.