THE JUNGLE BOOK
By Liz Casanova
Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o and Scarlett Johansson
Written by Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (book)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Running time 105 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Full Price
Jon Favreau's bold new take on the beloved classic The Jungle Book is a visual as well as character-driven journey. It is the tale of the young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is confronted with the harsh reality that he doesn't really belong with the wolf pack and must flee his animal family to escape the wrath of Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Along the way he meets animals that either want to take advantage of his man cub-ness or have him for lunch.
The film is pretty true to the book and the 1967 Disney animated film. This star-studded version, however, is much darker than its predecessors. Every scene with Shere Khan is pretty frightening which is also a testament to Elba, whose voice is ridiculously captivating. The casting choices are really what makes the film special. Newcomer Neel Sethi does an excellent job of being both absolutely adorable and showing off some serious acting chops. It's almost impossible to remember that his costars were CGed and were not physically present to evoke his natural reactions. Also, the easy physicality and the way he carries himself throughout the entire film is very impressive.
But the veteran actors who voice the film are also a pleasant surprise. It's a difficult task to take characters that people love and give them new life. Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie are the comical highlights. And they pepper in the songs "The Bear Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You." The singing could have been the element that ruined the film. After all, who can sing these songs better than Phil Harris or the great Louis Prima? Somehow Murray and Walken pull it off, not trying to emulate the greats but giving the songs and characters their own quirky flavor. The other casting choices are also solid. It's hard not to be charmed by Scarlett Johansson as Kaa or have your heart melt by Lupita Nyong'o as Mowgli's wolf mom Raksha. And if that doesn't do it, how about Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera? The Jungle Book is a film that heavily relies on the depth and richness of the the voices and it does not disappoint.
Usually it's pretty annoying to have every kids film in 3D. But The Jungle Book works best in this format. The depth of the cinematography, the action and various moving parts are really enhanced by this tool. The audience is really thrown into the story with the illusion that the jungle surrounds the theater.
What's great about this film is also what can manifest into a setback. It is deliciously dark. After all, it is a story about about a boy who is raised by wolves, thrives in a jungle and is hunted by a tiger. Favreau could have taken the easy road and made it a cute and cuddly tale. But instead, it's full throttle dark imagery and violence. It might not be suitable for the younger kids.
The only irritating thing about the film is that the ending is a little different and leaves room for a sequel. But that shouldn't discourage anyone from watching. It is truly a beautiful film and a sure instant classic.