TITLE: The Jungle Book
Recommendation: After this reboot, The Jungle Book remains on Disney’s B-List, but if you enjoy the Disney gestalt, you’ll enjoy this. The special effects are mind-blowing. This is the most realistic talking-animal film I’ve ever seen. There is enough action and emotional interest to keep most family audiences and die-hard Disney fans engaged for the 1h51m, but even Disneyphiles will likely agree that The Jungle Book could use a bit more editing, especially at the beginning. Newcomer Neel Seethi (Mowgli) gets props for being the only live-action actor. I envision the kid standing in front of green screens talking to hand puppets, but he sells it. He certainly looks the part of an Indian boy raised by wolves. They keep him dirty, gritty and scraped-up throughout the film, adding to his feral-child charm. The voice cameo by the late Garry Shandling made me go “awww.” Scarlett Johansson felt underutilized and left me wanting more of her as Kaa. The voice talents of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o and Christopher Walken make the dialogue feel richer than it is, but then Kingsley, Nyong’o and Walken are all Oscar winners and Murray and Elba are both nominees. No one should see this film on the strength of its musical numbers, but Murray’s rendition of “Bare Necessities” sounds hilariously like his old SNL character, Nick the Lounge Singer. Walken’s performance of “I Wanna Be Like You” sounds like Christopher Walken, playing a gigantopithecus, singing a second-tier Disney musical number retread. I mean this as a compliment.
What’s it about? Mowgli, a man-cub raised by wolves, tries to find his place among the other residents of the jungle when the tiger, Shere Khan (Elba), announces that the man-cub endangers them all and must die. Shere Khan threatens to kill anyone who does not help kill Mowgli. To protect his wolf-pack, Mowgli leaves. Baghera (Kingsley), the panther who originally found Mowgli, offers to return the boy to the man-village, but the jungle has other plans. Mowgli is swept into all sorts of coming-of-age adventures and along the way he meets a bear named Baloo (Murray), who is equal parts mentor and con-man. Mowgli must assert his own identity within the jungle community, but to do that, he must respond to the threat of Shere Khan.
Special Features: Bill Murray’s trademark hang-dog humor, seamless CGI animals and effects, pretty good action, some sentimental, Disneyesque tugs on your heartstrings, did I mention Bill Murray?
Themes / Big Ideas: What makes family? Trust vs. Security, What do we really need to be happy? How can a society with diverse interests still form a community?