In the opening sequence of Disney’s re-telling of the classic novel The Jungle Book, Mowgli (played delightfully by newcomer Neel Sethi) runs through the jungle like a live-action version of the video game Temple Run.
Mowgli is running with the wolves with the guidance of Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), his wise panther paternal type. The coupling of Kingsley’s noble narration and wide-eyed Sethi’s endearing performance provides the heartfelt base of an imaginative and adventurous remake of Disney’s 1967 animated film.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless tale of a “man-cub” being raised by a family of wolves, the new film’s stunning computer-generated creatures and backdrop put audiences right in the middle of the jungle.
It’s one of the few films in which the 3D enhancement is justified. Each scene captures the essence of each animal so vividly that children in the audience were reaching out to the screen to try to “touch” the fur.
After Mowgli’s tribe of wolves gets threatened by menacing tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) the boy is urged to abandon the only home he has known to find his own kind, for his own safety. While the wolf pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his protective mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) debate the circumstances, Mowgli decides to take the matter in his own hands and sets out on an epic adventure.
Along the way, he meets a seductive python, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and befriends a bombastic bear, Baloo (Bill Murray), who sings The Jungle Book’s beloved song Bare Necessities.
The all-star cast provides such depth to their animal counterparts with one exception. Christopher Walken’s gargantuan orangutan King Louie is played a bit over the top and his ominous rendition of I Wanna Be Like You brings an unnecessary dark tone to an otherwise uplifting film.
Parents should be warned there are some dark and violent scenes in the film that may not be suitable for younger children. However, directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), the enthralling blend of live action and CGI is officially the first big family hit of the season and will certainly spawn a sequel.
The Jungle Book
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Rated: PG (scary action and peril)
Running time: 105 min.