Screen Gems review: "The Jungle Book"

Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures

April 15, 2016
"The Jungle Book"
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril

Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" is one of the greatest stories ever told. A young boy is found by a black panther in the wild. The baby is raised by a wolfpack, makes friends with animals of all types, and must face a murderous tiger intent on wiping the man-cub out of the jungle.

The 1967 Walt Disney cartoon is a beloved animated classic. It's a bare bones version which tells the story quickly and neatly, filled out by wonderful music, including "The Bare Necessities."

This time around, Disney takes another crack at the tale, blending live action and very impressive computer animation.

Director Jon Favreau mixes everything together in a delightful dish which is wonderfully entertaining.

He takes the one real character in the entire movie, Neel Sethi's Mowgli, and places him in a beautifully rendered jungle surrounded by animated animals voiced by some of the industry's favorite actors.

Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) is the main storyteller. He's the one who finds Mowgli and takes him to the wolves. That's where we meet Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) who agree to raise the toddler as their own cub.

But Mowgli's idyllic existence is threatened when the legendary tiger Shere Kahn (Idris Elba) returns. He sniffs out the boy's scent and vows to kills him. With his family in peril, Mowgli decides to run away. That's when he meets the massive python Kaa (Scarlett Jojansson) who wants to make him a meal. Mowgli escapes with the help of a lazy and conniving bear named Baloo (Bill Murray). The two quickly bond and Baloo sets out to teach Mowgli how to live in the jungle without breaking a sweat.

Bagheera catches up with the boy and insists he'll only be safe with his own kind in the man village. Baloo reluctantly agrees but before they can make the journey, Mowgli is kidnapped by monkeys and apes, led by King Louie (Christopher Walken). He wants Mowgli to teach him about fire, but the boy manages to escape with help from his friends, setting up a final confrontation with Shere Kahn with the safety of the entire jungle at stake.

This is a beautiful, funny, moving film. There are laughs and thrills. In fact, it may be a bit too intense for very young children, so know what your child can handle before letting them watch the action. I loved the music, including Murray's renditon of "The Bare Necessities" and Walken doing a very weird but very entertaining "I Want To Be Like You."

The pictures are beautiful. Every animal, tree, leaf, spark of fire and drop of rain looks absolutely real. You'll be convinced you're in the middle of the jungle and not inside a Hollywood studio where it was created.

Sethi does an amazing job interacting with his imaginary environment. His Mowgli comes across as very real. Not whiny or too cute, just a young child forced to make some very adult decisions.

I loved this movie.

On my rating scale, I'm giving "The Jungle Book" FOUR DIAMONDS out of four. It's an amazing piece of work.

FOUR DIAMONDS=A fantastic movie! A must see!
THREE DIAMONDS=A good movie with minor flaws.
TWO DIAMONDS=An average movie with some entertaining scenes or performances.
ONE DIAMOND=A very poor movie with few entertaining scenes or performances.
LUMP OF COAL=Skip it, it's just plain awful.

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