Jon Favreau has been sort of fussing around in his own private playground post-Marvel, and his output has been dodgy at best. His upcoming, almost entirely motion captured adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book hasn’t been helped by its saccharine, generic trailers, but, hell, maybe Favreau’s indie sojourn Chef helped stoke his old fires a little bit.
It isn’t that films that are entirely motion captured are the world we live in now, it’s that we are proud of this achievement. As much as we applaud someone like J.J. Abrams for bringing practical effects back to Star Wars, the press tour for The Jungle Book has been an almost non-stop lovefest for the green-screened, mo-capped world Mr. Favreau has created, with actor’s applauding the fact that they didn’t even have to show up on set. It could be frightening, it could be a further stumble down the CGI-whirlpool that will inevitably suck us all down, but in Mr. Favreau’s capable hands, The Jungle Book isn’t only a technical marvel, but a surprisingly straightforward and endearing take on the classic tale. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a small boy living under the purvey of jungle animals, mainly wolves and a panther, in the heart of, well, the jungle. It is an idyllic upbringing until a vengeful tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), begins hunting him, forcing him out on his own to discover who he really is. This really might be the first truly successful marriage of motion capture with story. This an almost entirely immersive experience. Even though you are fully aware as an audience member that the world you are looking at is just pixels arranged in different patterns, at some point, early on, the brain just lets go, and there you are, an observer of this magical world of talking jungle animals. It’s amazing, but everyone has slogged through a slickly made mo-cap film, searching for the non-existent heart at its digital core. The Jungle Book transcends its genre. Though newcomer Neel Sethi borders just on the edge of winking rapscallion, for the most of the film’s running time he manages to imbue his quirky, well, childness, with layers of believable emotional output. His interactions with non-existent creatures (Bill Murray’s fantastic bear, Baloo, at the top of the pile) are genuine, authentic relationships and though yes, Favreau so painstakingly detailing his world and his animated movements is a big part of it, Sethi’s ability to stand ground with some of the great actors of all time, is at the heart of it. And, well, that’s where Favreau really scores, he doesn’t sacrifice heart for form, and he doesn’t sacrifice technological wow for overabundant emotional outpouring. No, instead he creates a classic coming of age story, but just uses the next wave of technology to make it very much his own.
One More Thought:
This has still not sold me on Warcraft: The Movie. But it has sold me on Favreau making more films.