Friday, April 15, 2016


Disney’s latest version of Rudyard Kipling’s famed and beloved jungle-adventure about a boy raised by animals is very much done in the spirit of their old, live-action/animated hybrid films; loaded with adventure, whimsy, fun characters and iconic villains…dressed up with breathtaking visuals and environments by way of the latest cinematic technology. It is not a remake, rehash, or reboot, but instead a reinvention of the classic tale while keeping all the right themes intact.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi), is a young orphan (referred to as a man-cub) who was abandoned in the jungle and found by a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), and raised by a wolf named Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o). When a vengeful tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) seeks to kill Mowgli, the young boy sets out into the jungle to go back to his own kind, and along the way befriends a bear named Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), encounters a seductive snake named Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and a power-hungry gigantopithecus by the name of King Louie (Christopher Walken).

Drawing heavily on Kipling’s many works, THE JUNGLE BOOK is episodic in nature as Mowgli ventures through the jungle encountering friends and foes while falling into one scrape and pickle after another. Keeping all of the chapters together are very strong threads which director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks are more than happy to explore. The question of how many lives a man-cub is worth is asked early on by Khan, and that question seems to be grappled with by Mowgli’s friends as they help him decide if he should stay in the jungle or go back to his own kind. Looming over it all is the threat Khan poses to Mowgli and to the rest of the jungle inhabitants and it provides a serious threat which all characters have to face.

Favreau explores many themes during Mowgli’s trek through the wilderness; about man’s threat to nature and the danger they pose, what makes a man a man and the question of what really makes a family. These are very adult themes which are handled very well and never derail the film or bog it down too much for younger minds. But the first great beauty of THE JUNGLE BOOK is that Favreau drops us all in the middle of the jungle, right in Mowgli’s mind…and lets us explore the magnificently realized world through his eyes. There is a sense of wonder going on at all times, as Favreau seems to be recalling the days of his childhood when nature programs were the thing to watch every Sunday afternoon.

The second great beauty of THE JUNGLE BOOK is the breathtaking visual effects. The entire environment is artificial and the many animals, ranging from wolves to monkeys to squirrels to hawks to elephants…are stunningly convincing. Everything is photorealistic and it’s hard to tell where any physical elements end and the CGI begins.

Neel Sethi, in his first feature film, is fantastic as Mowgli as he hits every emotional note that can be asked of such a young actor. The voice-cast is perfectly matched with their animal characters, with the true standout being Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan. Idris booms like thunder in bringing this bad guy to life. Khan is a true menace on screen and a great cinematic villain. The show is stolen by Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, whose animal characters actually look like them…and they both get to sing a little…

The finale is a thrill and manages to pull off a convincing final battle despite the heavy use of CGI animals bashing into each other. By movie’s end, Favreau has found a way to tap into the things that we all enjoyed as cubs, and can appreciate more as adults. THE JUNGLE BOOK is new and exciting; taking old themes from an old story and giving them a fresh coat of paint that is classic and endearing. Be prepared to laugh, cry, fear, and duck for cover…this is an emotional journey that Disney has always done so very well.


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