Weekend movie review: Disney's The Jungle Book

I bristle a bit when I hear that a beloved film is being remade. So when I saw sometime back that THE JUNGLE BOOK, the fabulous Disney film that was one of the very first Disney films I shared with my oldest grandson (second only to MARY POPPINS), I worried. I worried Mowgli — whom my grandson adored — wouldn't be the same. That the adorable elephant walk scene my grandson and I reenacted again and again wouldn't be the same. That Baloo and his scratchin' while singing Bare Necessities wouldn't be the same.

 the jungle book 2016

And I was right. It's all very different in this new version of THE JUNGLE BOOK. Because it's live action. No colorfully drawn chimps or elephants or slithering snakes or a Shere Khan that seems scary but isn't because, well, he's just a cartoon.

No more cartoon. Instead, the jungle in THE JUNGLE BOOK has come alive, become real, become far more appealing to older folks, and far more scarier for younger ones.

Still, it's a sight to behold, a must-see movie. For kids a tad older than 10, I would say (though that's not official from Disney, by any means), because as the jungle and all its inhabitants now seem real, so does the danger. Intense scenes showing frightening acts of nature (landslides, floods, fires, and more) as well as vicious jungle animals just may be a bit much for the youngest of youngsters who can and do delight in the animated version.

THE JUNGLE BOOK is, of course, still based on the beloved tale by Rudyard Kipling. It's the epic tale — now live action — of 10-year-old Mowgli (played by amazing newcomer Neel Sethi), who was left behind in the jungle as a baby and found by Bagheera, the wise panther (voice of Ben Kingsley). Bagheera turned over the raising of Mowgli to a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and protective mama Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o), and Mowgli thrived under their care, became a member of the family.

Now, though, as "man cub" Mowgli has grown and has captured the attention of Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) — who declares his intent to kill the boy — Mowgli must leave the jungle and return to society. Or so Bagheera tells him. Only, Baloo (voice of Bill Murray) has a different idea for the boy.


Like the animated film, Kaa the python (voice of Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken) attempt luring Mowgli into dangerous traps of sorts, and the elephants are still highly revered royalty in the jungle. There is far less music and merry mayhem, though, which seems to have contributed to the loss of attention of the younger kids in the screening I attended. The older kids — and adults — though, marveled at the on-screen magic of the lush environment and the astonishingly photorealistic CGI animals whose mouths moved perfectly in sync with their speaking parts.

I don't know about anyone else, but I was amazed by Sethi's ability to run (barefoot!) like a wild boy. His feet had to have hurt after each scene. The young actor also impressed me by the seamless manner in which he interacted with and talked to animals who, I imagine, really were not there during the filming.

Though Sethi as Mowgli, a virtual MacGuyver of the Jungle, is definitely the star of the show on so many levels, THE JUNGLE BOOK is an amazing achievement by director Jon Favreau and the hundreds (thousands?) of folks listed in the credits. The adventure felt real. And scary. And funny as all getout when Bill Murray and Christopher Walken were on screen. Well, their voices, anyway. They each sing the requisite songs sung by Baloo and King Louie in an amusing and mischievous manner I found far more memorable than in the original. (I was saddened, though, by no "Colonel Hathi's March" from the elephant brigade.)

A featurette on Disney's remake of THE JUNGLE BOOK:


THE JUNGLE BOOK (rated PG for "some sequences of scary action and peril") opens in theaters — including in 3D at IMAX and others — today, April 15, 2016. Visit the film's official site for more information, videos, and fun.

Disclosure: I was invited to a free screening of this film; all opionions are my own.