Shocked! This is how I felt while watching Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. While watching, I actually whispered to myself, “I can’t believe I’m enjoying this.”
This is nothing against Favreau, a director I like a lot. Sure, a couple of his movies have been bloated (Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens), but I suspect he feels the same way. After Cowboys, Favreau took a sabbatical of sorts: Directing a deep meditation about what was essentially himself and the film industry, Chef. Favreau will sometimes deny this and sometimes play coy about this – I hosted a panel with him on Chef and watched him do just that with a wink and a smile – but that was a very good decision for him. It’s like a musical artist releasing an acoustic album right after something big and bombastic. Chef was Favreau’s Nebraska album. Now he’s come back with something lean and mean. I truly think Favreau getting back to basics has made him a better filmmaker. The Jungle Book, the definition of a movie that “wasn’t made for me,” won me over.
I never read the book, but like most children I saw the 1967 animated The Jungle Book — my viewing was during a 1984 re-release. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact we have pretty much every piece of media available at our fingertips. But I do wish re-releases were more common for popular movies.) I have no special bond to The Jungle Book. By the time I saw it, I was too into Star Wars and Ghostbusters. I remember kind of, sort of enjoying it, but that was about it. Put it this way: In the 32 years since, I’ve had no particular urge to ever see it again. This is why I had no real interest in seeing this new version. I guess I just didn’t care. I was wrong.
Within five minutes, I had already mouthed a few “holy shit”s at the 3D I was seeing. It’s so beautiful! It stinks how 3D has been misused since its 2009 resurgence with Avatar. It’s become something we all try to avoid if the non-3D showing fits in our schedule. The Jungle Book is one of those handful of movies that belongs in 3D. The 3D legitimately enhances the experience. I don’t like 3D as an industry tool to milk money out of us poor schlubs just so we can watch a slightly darker screen, but if you see The Jungle Book, you should see it in 3D. This is one of those movies they should never release on Blu-ray and just re-release it every few years in 3D. (One caveat: the press screening I was at was at one of those new AMC Prime theaters, where the picture is pristine and is lit properly. Boy, that picture just burst off the screen I was watching. Unfortunately, if you have a bad local theater, I have no idea what this will look like.)