Adventure Drama

'The Jungle Book' Film Review: The bare necessities and more

April 15, 2016Ben MK

The latest in Disney's ever-expanding line-up of live-action adaptations, The Jungle Book follows in the footsteps of 2010's Alice in Wonderland, 2014's Maleficent and 2015's Cinderella. This time, however, things are a little bit different, because unlike those movies, director Jon Favreau's retelling of Rudyard Kipling's timeless tale features a cast predominantly made up of photorealistic CG animals.

As with last year's Cinderella, this 2016 version of The Jungle Book doesn't stray far from the plot set out by the 1967 animated version, telling the story of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a young Indian boy who was orphaned as an infant, rescued by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and taken in by a pair of wolves named Akela and Raksha (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong'o). Raised alongside the other wolf cubs, Mowgli is taught the Law of the Jungle and grows up thinking himself one of the animals. Then one day, he encounters a Bengal tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who reminds the jungle's inhabitants of the distinction between animal and man.

Harboring a deep resentment for humans, Shere Khan takes special offense to the fact that one of them is living in their midst; and he threatens to kill any creature that gets between him and the man-cub. As a result, Mowgli opts to leave the jungle, and he and Bagheera embark on a journey towards the man-village. This marks the beginning of Mowgli's adventure, which sees him crossing paths with a giant python named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a friendly black bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and an oversized orangutan named King Louie (Christopher Walken). On top of all that, Mowgli still has to contend with the wickedness of Shere Khan, who won't rest until Mowgli is dead.

The result may sound like a dead serious adaptation of Kipling's 1894 story, but that distinction is likely best saved for Andy Serkis' upcoming directorial debut, an unrelated project titled Jungle Book: Origins, which features its own laundry list of Hollywood A-listers. In the meantime, moviegoers can rest assured: The Jungle Book may be darker than Disney's 1967 version, but it's still ideal fare for all but the very youngest of viewers, with plenty of thrills to satisfy older audiences, not to mention enough humor and heart to entertain everyone in-between.

Scripted by Justin Marks, The Jungle Book teeters on the edge of being just a little too cute and precocious for its own good at times. And how could it not? The film's stars are a kid and menagerie of talking animals, after all. Luckily, however, Sethi manages to hold his own against his more seasoned castmates and their furry, four-legged or reptilian counterparts, a pretty impressive feat when you consider that Sethi was only 10-years-old at the time he was cast, and that all of the creatures you see on-screen with him are 100% digital fabrications.

Speaking of which, the visuals in The Jungle Book are absolutely gorgeous, and they do a wonderful job of drawing the audience into the film. Whether it's the lush jungle environment or the fully-convincing CG wildlife, which also include porcupines, piglets and a family of elephants, there's no shortage of eye candy. Likewise, the filmmakers also do fans of the 1967 movie a service by including some ear candy, in the form of renditions of "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You." It all adds up to an incredibly charming time at the movies; and if Disney's next live-action adaptation, Beauty and the Beast, is half as good, there's plenty more to look forward to.

The Jungle Book releases April 15th, 2016 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some sequences of scary action and peril. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 45 Mins.

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