Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Don't dismiss the live-action re-make of Disney's Jungle Book (opening today) as simply a remake. It's more of a re-invention, and it's a sure-fire success.
Most everyone is familiar with the source material the film is based on, "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling, the book that was brought to popularity with the masses in Disney's lightened-up musical version in 1967 (it was Disney's 19th animated film). Mowgli, the "man-cub," is a human child raised by wolves in the depths of an Indian jungle, who is befriended by Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther. It follows his efforts to be brought back to a nearby human civilization, and along the way he meets the hypnotizing snake Kaa, King Louie the ape, and the deadly and villainous bengal tiger Shere Khan.
But why remake an animated classic? Within minutes of this newest version, you won't find yourself pondering that anymore. Of course, the answer is partially that Disney is looking to cash in, and this new Jungle Book movie is one of several Disney classics that are seeing a live-action face-lift (we've already been treated to a live-action Cinderella last year, and there is a Beauty and the Beast remake currently in the works). But somewhat surprisingly, this new film has a succinct vision, and you'll find yourself immersed in this universe full of talking animals, overgrown landscapes and catchy tunes (more on that later) almost instantly.
Newcomer, 10-year-old Neel Sethi plays Mowgli and gives one heck of a performance: He's cute and likable and represents Mowgli well, but also handles a few of the movie's heavier themes with experience beyond his years. The animals that populate his world include the voices of Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) and even the late Garry Shandling as a wayward porcupine. Only Christoper Walken as King Louie seems out of place.
Director Jon Favreau should be officially promoted into the class of "elite" working directors today. With this Jungle Book, he creates anticipation for all future Disney live-action films, much like his work on Iron Man birthed the success of the Marvel movie franchise (imagine if that movie would have sucked, what would movies be today?). But the visuals here are a true revolution in the areas of cinematography, computer-animation and graphics technology. The drawback is that the live-action in this film can be quite scary at times, which may work in direct opposition of who this film is being targeted at. Yes parents, this Jungle Book may not be appropriate for young ones, despite the PG rating.
And while there are menacing monsters and hyper-realistic creatures lurking in the dark, there is also a lot of fun and excitement, more than enough to capture the hearts of movie-goers of all ages. It sticks a little closer to the dark tone of the original material, but this is whole-heartedly a Disney film, almost to an annoying degree, when two beloved songs ("Bear Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You") are still shoe-horned into the story. The first song at least sort of works and is brought up organically. But by the time Christopher Walken's King Louie peaks out of the shadows and sings "I Wan'na Be Like You," it's totally uncomfortable and was the film's biggest and only mishap. There is only one Louie Prima (the famous singer who voiced the animated Disney version), and Walken's version borders on blasphemous. He also has no reason to bust into song, unlike the fun-loving and kind-hearted Baloo earlier in the film.
Walken's inclusion aside, this Jungle Book is a must-see for fans of the original and even those that were not...just beware in bringing very small children, as even as an adult, it was hard for me to shake some of the film's more gruesome images from my mind.
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 45minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Neel Sethi, and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose
Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by Jon Favreau (Chef, Cowboys & Aliens, Iron Man 2, Iron Man, Elf, Made)
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