Written By: Joshua Hodges
As the saying goes, you can’t improve upon perfection—or can you? For the past six years, that’s exactly what Walt Disney Pictures has been doing. Continuing a trend that started with 2010’s “Alice In Wonderland” and later perfected with 2014’s “Maleficent”, the creative minds at Disney have outdone themselves once more with the roaring success of “The Jungle Book”, which introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the man-cub. Sethi stars alongside Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the Panther, Idris Elba as Shere Kahn the Tiger, and Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha the Mother Wolf. The film also features Christopher Walken as King Louie of the Apes, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela the Alpha Wolf, and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the Python.
There’s no simple way to compare this to Walt Disney’s original masterpiece, which was released almost 50 years ago. When I went to the cinema during the film’s opening weekend run, I overheard several different people—in the ticket line, at the refreshment counter, and even in the restroom—voicing their concerns over how the film would turn out. Rest assured, if you go to see this film, you will not be disappointed.
Although the sights of the jungle, with all of its luscious plants and wild animals, is a marvel that can only be accomplished with the finishing touches of CGI—which include motion capture for lip synchronization, and actual footage of live animals for an extra touch of realism—what really drives this film is the sound design. With surround sound now being a de facto necessity in Hollywood, “The Jungle Book” will have you turning your head this way and that at least twenty times throughout the picture.
Some of these surround-sound moments will leave you breathless; there are plenty of scenes where the ambience of Indian wildlife add just a little touch of magic to the dialogue scenes. Take, for instance, a conversation between Baloo and Bagheera. As the two of them talk, their dialogue is kept at the center of attention, but then off in the distance, either right next to you or right behind you, you can hear the sounds of exotic birds, frogs, insects, and the occasional monkey. Other surround sound moments will leave you holding your breath; there are numerous physical altercations between the wild animals of this Indian Jungle, which are intensified by the characters’ numerous roars, growls, and snarls.
Now, for those of who you prefer to avoid horror movies, be warned: Kaa’s entrance scene will be scary for some, because she speaks for almost an entire minute before she is actually seen. And every line of her off-screen dialogue originates from a different direction than the last, as if she were a ghost. One line, hard-panned to a speaker directly behind where I was seated, made me gasp in sheer terror, provoking a group seated three rows forward to scream. Of course, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t see the film if you get scared easily.
Altogether, this film is starkly different to the original book as well as the 1967 film, from both of which it draws inspiration. Beautiful scenery, as well as newly revamped versions of the classic songs “The Bare Necessities,” “I Wanna Be Like You,” and “Trust In Me”—all three of which can be heard in full during the credits—certainly helped to bring this four-star picture to life. But it’s safe to say that if there’s one thing that will ever earn this picture the fifth star it deserves, it’s the sound design.