"The Jungle Book"
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Running Time: 111 minutes
Disney’s insistence on giving its animated classics the live-action treatment has so far yielded mixed results. We certainly could do without the hyperactive Alice in Wonderland and the revisionist Maleficent, although at least the latter attempted to distinguished itself from Sleeping Beauty with its emphasis on the “Mistress of All Evil.” Last year’s Cinderella managed to capture the romanticism and elegance of its 1950 animated counterpart but it still felt superfluous. There’s also no reason for director Jon Favreau’s live-action version of The Jungle Book to exist beyond the fact that Hollywood remains unhealthily obsessed with remakes and reboots. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and Sleeping Beauty, though, this umpteenth retelling of The Jungle Book more than justifies its existence. Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks offer a mature and patient interpretation of The Jungle Book that retains traditional Disney family values while stripping away the allegorical colonial politics of Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories and the perceived racial elements of the 1967 cartoon. Favreau also executes the many moments of action with an assured hand, which is only to be expected from the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Favreau kicks things off in exhilarating fashion, with Mowgli speeding through the Indian jungle and climbing trees in a bid to prove his worth as a man-cub to his adoptive parents, the wolves Raksha and Akela, and his protector, the black panther Bagheera. The animals in The Jungle Book are CGI creations, but they possess such personality and humanity that they put the CGI protagonists of Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield to shame. Before you can recite one word of the Law of the Jungle, the Bengal tiger Shere Khan threatens to kill Mowgli out of fear that the man-cub will grow up to be just like the adults who bring death and destruction to the jungle. Thus begins Mowgli’s journey through the jungle to the “Man Village,” where Bagheera assumes Mowgli will be safe from Shere Khan. As with its animated predecessor, this Jungle Book feels episodic in nature as Mowgli encounters the likes of the devious python Kea, the laid-back if manipulative bear Baloo, and the King Kong-sized orangutan King Louis, whose obsession with fire—or “the Red Flower,” as it is known in the jungle—comes into play during the climatic fight between Mowgli and Shere Khan that Favreau stages with frightening intensity. At the heart of The Jungle Book is newcomer Neel Sethi, who imbues Mowgli with an incorruptible innocence and a fervent curiosity that remains strong even in the face of death. Favreau mines the Marvel Cinematic Universe for his voice cast, beginning with the regal Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, the suitably hypnotic Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, and an intimidating Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Christopher Walken allows his patented eccentricities to mask the menacing side of King Louis. And, if any actor was born to voice Baloo, it’s Bill Murray. Baloo doesn’t just exhibit an uncanny physical resemblance to Murray—he’s blessed with Murray’s “What, Me Worry?” disposition and relaxed mannerisms. The interactions between Mowgli and Baloo are informed with an earnestness that’s hard to create between actor and CGI creature. We’re also treated to Murray’s take on “The Bare Necessities,” but the inclusion of the animated film’s signature song as well as Walken’s version of “I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” feels uncomfortably inserted into The Jungle Book as if to appease Disney fans old and young and to sell a few million copies of the soundtrack. Favreau would have been better served having the songs play over the end credit, which he does with Johansson’s rendition of “Trust in Me.” This is the only questionable decision made in The Jungle Book, but it’s not one that detracts too much from the proceedings. Disney knows what it has with The Jungle Book—a superior live-action remake of its established animated classics—and the studio is already trying to get Favreau and Marks to return for a sequel. Don’t be surprised if Disney rushes a sequel into production in order to get it into theaters before the fall of 2018, when actor Andy Serkis’ interpretation of The Jungle Book is expected to open.
Aired: April 14, 2016
Web sites: http://movies.disney.com/the-jungle-book-2016 and https://www.facebook.com/DisneyJungleBook