Nearly four decades after Disney told the tale of Mowgli’s adventures in animated form, the studio continues its retellings of their catalogue in mostly CG form with The Jungle Book. The result is a satisfying effort that doesn’t reach the level of a true classic – just as the 1967 effort didn’t either. Still, it’s an unquestionable triumph of what technology can accomplish these days. In an age where talking animals have stampeded multiplexes, these ones look pretty darn amazing.
Jon Favreau has been tasked with bringing back Mowgli (Neel Sethi in an adequate child performance) and his story of being raised in the jungle. He’s part of a wolf pack that has nothing to do with Zach Galifianakis as he’s actually been raised by wolves. There’s also his panther mentor Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) who encourages our young protagonist to find others like him (you know, people) after his life is threatened by the fierce tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba, enunciating menace expertly).
This, of course, sets our hero off on an adventure where he comes into contact with many of the inhabitants of the vast wild lands he calls home. He partners up with honey grubbing bear Baloo (Bill Murray), has a frightening encounter with snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and is taunted by apish thug King Louie (Christopher Walken).
The voiceover casting here is impeccable and adds a lot to these proceedings. Song and dance man Walker gets a solo take on “I Wan’na Be Like You” and “The Bare Necessities” is figured in. Truthfully, the musical numbers seem a little tacked on, but they’re not around long enough to really complain about. Plus the kids should dig them.
The Jungle Book and its message of the dangers of man vs. wild is a familiar one, but we’ve yet to witness it with special effects like these. We are aware Mowgli and the boy playing him probably spent months in front of a green screen. However, we forget it quickly with these ultra photo realistic creatures in front of us and their well cast actors voicing them. This is the biggest accomplishment that Favreau and his team pull off and it’s certainly enough to make this a worthy addition to the Mouse Factory’s long list of verbal beast experiences.
*** (out of four)