Reviewed by: Jessica D. Lovett
Neel Sethi … Mowgli
Scarlett Johansson … Kaa (voice)
Idris Elba … Shere Khan (voice)
Bill Murray … Baloo (voice)
Christopher Walken … King Louie (voice)
Ben Kingsley … Bagheera (voice)
Lupita Nyong'o … Raksha (voice)
Giancarlo Esposito … Akela (voice)
Ralph Ineson … Rama (voice)
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|Director||Jon Favreau—“Iron Man” 1-3, “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011), “Elf” (2003)|
Moving Picture Company
Walt Disney Pictures
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
As the slightly samba, mellow notes of the familiar theme music swelled and the lush jungle scenery of “The Jungle Book” began on opening night at my local theater, those of us who grew up with the 1967 animated version of the story anxiously stared at the screen, waiting, not quite sure what to expect. After all, remakes aren’t usually all they’re cracked up to be. However, this new live-action version of “The Jungle Book” directed by Jon Favreau of “Iron Man” fame strikes just enough chords with the older version to resonate and yet strings enough new notes together to not feel too stale and rehashed.
Adults watching the film are sure to be amused by the actors in the animal voice-over parts. Bill Murray got many audible laughs from kids in the audience as everyone’s favorite lovable-but-loyal slacker, bear Baloo. Murray singing “The Bare Necessities” was definitely worth the price of my matinée ticket. Sir Ben Kingsley added the perfect blend of raw power and paternal love in his portrayal of panther, Bagherra. Scarlett Johansson is smooth and scarily hypnotic as Kaa the python, while Christopher Walken’s giant (now extinct) Gigantopithecus—versus the orangutan from the cartoon—King Louie singing a threatening—while still peppy—New Orleans style “I Wanna Be Like You” will not soon be forgotten!
However, newcomer Neel Sethi steals the show. Only 10-years-old at the time, he nailed the look and the characterization of Mowgli. He portrays Mowgli as fiercely independent without as much of the impudence of the original cartoon character.
The CG animals could not be more real. I was continually amazed by the realism of their expressions, their fur, their movements… Just incredible. Beyond that, Neel Sethi’s divulgence in an interview made my jaw drop, having just seen the film. He said, “We didn’t go out to the jungle at all. I was just in New York—that’s where I live—and flew to LA, and that was just it. It was all blue screen, so there was no need for a jungle. Sometimes there was set there; anything I was touching or reacting with was actually there. They had dirt, and soil, and grass, and trees.”* Sorry to spoil it for you, if you haven’t seen it yet… Maybe I’m just gullible, but it looked completely real to me!
Mowgli wears the traditional red diaper-wrapped undergarment, as in the cartoon. He is the only human that we really see close up in the film. Baloo says “what the heck” and “oh my gosh” once, and that’s the only language issue.
The main concern for younger viewers is the sheer onslaught of peril! Mowgli’s wolf and human fathers are both killed, he has to run from hordes of angry monkeys, the charging Shere Khan, stampeding buffalo, raging waters, a mudslide, swarms of bees… there’s a lot of running away from things. Shere Khan is scarred-looking from being injured in a fire and has a visibly damaged eye, which might scare younger viewers. Voice by Idris Elba, he is extremely menacing and forbidding, trying to manipulate the other animals with fearful tactics.
There are fight scenes with Shere Khan and also fight scenes with King Louie and the monkeys. One wolf is killed by being bitten by Khan and then thrown from a cliff. Mowgli’s human father is killed by Shere Khan, though this scene is mostly in silhouette. An animal is dramatically killed with ruins falling down on top of him, after a savage chase after Mowgli through dark, columned passageways. Another animal is killed falling from a tree into a fiery blaze. The “man’s red flower” line from the original “I Wanna Be Like You” song is used in the animal’s vernacular as their word for “fire,” and there are a couple of forest fires (one in a flashback) and a bonfire that present potentially scary moments.
And, lest I forget, Kaa is a gigantic serpent (python) that attempts to squeeze Mowgli to death. As I said, loads and loads of peril punctuated every so often with a little comic relief. If your child is fine with exciting moments and not swayed by fast moving action sequences, the movie is clearly designed for children and mostly bloodless in its action.
Not a true musical, the familiar, catchy songs echo here and there in the film in the expected places.
The ending is completely different and feels justified, given the new twists in the story. Mowgli is more respectful of the animals and natural laws of the jungle and is seen as a kinder, more resourceful, more self-sacrificing character than he was in the original animated film. Khan’s revenge is seen as unjust, and the animals show bravery standing up to his attempts to rule over them. The goal of bringing peace and unity to the jungle is brought out by Mowgli’s love for his jungle home.
Don’t be tempted to beat the crowd and sneak out before the end credits roll… There is a fun homage to classic Disney’s old tradition of having an antique hardcover book of the film’s namesake story lying over satiny fabric and have it open up to the story and beginning the film. The characters jump out of the book itself in a comical, light ending to the movie.
Violence: Moderate to Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.