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Jungle Book (3D), The
Disney // PG // April 15, 2016
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The jungle can be a dangerous place for man, yet the original animated Disney classic is much more fuzz than claws. The Hollywood major has made the smart decision to begin reviving its properties in a way that will engage children and adults alike. If you have been keeping up with the movie trailer releases, then you likely know the concerns that many moviegoers had rather quickly about a live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. However, you shouldn't think of it as a remake of the animated film, but rather as an adaptation from the original collection of stories. Disney has taken the film that once had the tag line of "The Jungle is Jumpin'!," and turned it into something a bit darker.
Man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has lived in the jungle for as long as he can remember. After being raised by a pack of wolves, the vicious tiger named Shere Kahn (Idris Elba) has started making threats to the life of this young boy. This sets him on a journey across the jungle, as he must make a decision of whether he truly belongs with other humans, or if the jungle is where he belongs.
Many audiences discount the depth of the many stories that Disney has brought to the silver screen. While their films are meant for families, many of them still offer compelling narratives. While The Jungle Book follows a young boy as the only human character, it tells a story of self-discovery. Mowgli seeks the one thing that all people desire: to feel a sense of belonging. Putting aside the adventure aspects for a moment, Justin Marks' screenplay successfully introduces all of the right character conflicts. However, it could have explored Baloo's (Bill Murray) clear internal conflict a bit more to tie his narrative to Mowgli's. Regardless, this remains to be a film that works, even without the animated film's established audience. Between this and Zootopia, I'd say that Disney is hitting the nail directly on the head with the talking animal features this year.
Director Jon Favreau has certainly brought a slightly different perspective to this beloved classic. My memories of the animated film bring me to a warm and colorful place, but Favreau brings us a very different tone. It isn't Batman-level dark, but it's a pleasant surprise from Disney. This can especially be seen through the sequences of animal violence that may prove to be a bit gnarly for young children. However, that isn't to say that there aren't any light moments, as it still enjoys a playful side. The jokes are hit-and-miss, but they always feel well-intentioned. Audiences will undoubtedly be divided on the decision to still include a few songs from the animated classic. The singing of "The Bare Necessities" is fun and included organically, although "I Wanna Be Like You" sticks out like a sore thumb. It's introduced in a fashion similar to that of a musical, which is quite ineffective.
As mentioned previously, The Jungle Book has received a tonal make-over, although the same cannot be said for the plot beats that remain at its core. However, that's to be expected from a film that is based off of a book that already had a film adaptation. The climax follows the typical final confrontation that could have been extended another few minutes, as it feels a bit too short-lived. Nevertheless, this is a modern look at The Jungle Book that is likely to remain in the thoughts of audiences for quite some time, as it manages to be fun and well-crafted.
Child actor Neel Sethi premieres in his debut theatrical role as Mowgli, and his inexperience shows itself prominently. While Sethi manages to portray some relatively genuine moments, there are only a few of them. If he decides to pursue an acting career in the future, we can only hope that his skill set will improve. However, the entire voice acting cast is quite extraordinary. Bill Murray couldn't possibly be more fitting as the voice of the lazy Baloo, and Ben Kingsley provides the film with class as Bagheera. However, the contributions from Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson are quite possibly the feature's greatest casting decisions. Elba delivers a true sense of intimidation, as he commands the screen each time his voice is heard. Meanwhile, Johansson is seductive and eternally eerie as Kaa.
Bringing The Jungle Book to live-action means incorporating a large amount of digital effects. Favreau went all out to ensure that it looked real. Cheap CG would have quickly made the feature feel tacky, which would quickly conflict with its darker tone. However, all of the animals and environments are absolutely breathe-taking. Some of the characters received completely new designs, which have been changed for the better. King Louie's size in all of the promotional materials had me concerned, although it feels fitting to create a sense of scale between the young Mowgli and the giant animal. The 3D delivers a decent sense of depth, especially during the action sequences, which truly immerses the audience in this jungle, which has danger lurking around every corner.
The initial trailers left me feeling a bit cold, but this is an adventure worth experiencing, regardless of initial impressions. It's fun, visually gorgeous, and occasionally humorous. The impressive list of voice actors serves as an even larger draw, allowing the feature to deliver all it was intended to. The climax feels a bit too short, but the film's quick pacing makes up for a rushed conclusion. This is worth taking the whole family to see, although some of the animal fights could scare the younger crowd. The Jungle Book is a successful modernization of a childhood classic. Highly recommended!