THE JUNGLE BOOK
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Neel Sethi, Idris Elba, Bill Murray
Family films tend to lean closer to the magical element of happily ever after than delving into the depths of real terror and deep, dark colors. With Jon Favreau's impressive take on Disney's version of Rudyard Kipling's classic tale, the intense reality of the animal kingdom and special effects will leave you captivated, enthralled, and a little terrified.
Newcomer Neel Sethi straps in as the only flesh and blood aspect of the story of Mowgli, the human cub, raised by a pack of wolves and maturing amongst the animals that should become his enemy. That reality is both endearing when looking at his set of best pals, including a panther and tubby bear, but intimidating to those animals who have faced humankind before. The most prominent antagonist is the Bengal tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), who had a run in with Mowgli's father and the red flower, as fire is known amongst the animals. When it becomes apparent that Mowgli must leave the pack and return to his kind, for every animal's safety, that adventure becomes the greatest of them all.
Rich in eye-opening special effects, including a completely fabricated, but real looking, atmosphere and convincing animal counterparts, The Jungle Book knows its strengths are in the visual, which leaves other aspects to be desired. Most notably absent are certain charming effects of the story we know and love, but that also adds to the excitement of taking something beloved and making it new, in a respectful and captivating way. The Disney animated version relied on comedy and song to link the story of Mowgli along. The newer version relies on subtle and tolerable fear and a sense of reality, plus the occasional comedy and even song.
As Mowgli, Sethi is every bit the adventure-seeking boy you'd expect. When realizing the young actor is basically carrying the film himself, it's even more impressive, putting him amongst the likes of Sandra Bullock or Matt Damon as an actor tasked with delivering a performance alone.
The voice cast of the animals includes Hollywood hitters like Elba, who is deliciously terrifying, Scarlett Johansson, who gives a sultry twist to the generally male snake Kaa, and Bill Murray, who steals the show as the loveable and hungry bear Baloo.
Each element of Favreau's film lives up to the hype that's preceded it and then some. From beginning to end, expect to find yourself just as enthralled as a child. It's visually impressive and emotionally sound. Plus, "The Bare Necessities" will be stuck in your head for at least the first week after you see it, which should always be a good thing.
Runtime: 105 minutes