By Steve Manzo
This article was originally published in Issue 14, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (April 28, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue.
Over the last few years, Walt Disney Pictures has made a habit of producing live-action adaptations of some of their most beloved animated classics with the likes of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and Cinderella. With their latest release, they keep that trend going. This time, however, they have done the unthinkable and created an adaptation that exceeds the original.
Based on the classic collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book is the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub who has been raised in the jungle by a wolf pack and a black panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Trouble arises as the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) detects the presence of the boy and wants him killed at all costs. Because of this, Mowgli volunteers to leave for the safety of the wolf pack and himself. Bagheera goes along with Mowgli to escort him to the man village.
During their journey, Mowgli and Bagheera encounter some interesting characters including a python named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the ape King Louie (Christopher Walken) and a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), who end up joining the two. Meanwhile in Mowgli’s absence, Shere Khan has taken over the wolf pack for letting Mowgli get away. Mowgli must decide if it’s best to go back and help the wolf pack or leave the jungle behind and join the man village.
As the credits rolled, I was shocked to read that the film was shot all on set in Los Angeles, because it looked as if the entire movie was shot in the jungle. This is without a doubt one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. Not only does the scenery look phenomenal, but the animals are some of the most lifelike computer-generated imagery creations ever put on screen. The audience believes that Mowgli is actually talking to real life animals.
The cast in this movie is also sensational. In his film debut, Neel Sethi does an exceptional job portraying Mowgli. He looks identical to his animated counterpart and does a great job conveying the child-like element of his character. Idris Elba brings an intimidating presence to the villain Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley brings a dignified disposition to Bagheera and Bill Murray gives a great performance that is funny yet emotional.
This film builds its foundation on the shoulders of its previous adaptations and takes it a step beyond by bringing a much needed dose of action. The many fight scenes in this film come off as very intense and brutal due to the lifelike nature of the animals. These scenes may frighten a lot of the younger viewers, but the film benefits from their emotional punch.
While it is a strong adaptation, the film struggles with not knowing how much homage it wants to make from previous adaptations. The film is not a musical like the 1967 animated movie, but two of its classic songs make it into this version. While one is incorporated seamlessly in the movie, the other one starts up out of nowhere and feels a bit out of place. However, these criticisms are not enough to bring the movie down. As a whole, this rendition of The Jungle Book is the strongest adaptation of the classic story put on the silver screen to date, and possibly the most dazzling visual spectacle you’ll see this year.
This film is rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.
Overall Rating: 8/10
(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)
1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much
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