Welcome to the jungle — it’s full of fun and games.
“The Jungle Book” (2016) captures the childlike sense of adventure and imaginative play that turned “The Jungle Book” (1967) into a classic. Playful Baloo, regal Bagheera, cunning Shere Khan, the clever man-cub Mowgli and all your old favorites are back for a new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s jungle story.
This latest version is given lift by the stunning compilation of star-power in roles as voice actors. The list of Academy Award winners lending their voices for the film includes Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o and Christopher Walken. Throw in Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson and Giancarlo Esposito and you have enough talent — in supporting roles alone — to surpass any Disney animation film in recent memory.
But don’t forget Mowgli.
Neel Sethi, in his breakout role, plays a perfect man-cub. He is the only speaking actor who actually appears as a person in the film. Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves after he is found in the jungle by Bagheera. He has the unique ability to speak to and interact with the animals of the jungle and participate in the rules and guidelines governing jungle culture. It’s a happy life for an out-of-place boy until Shere Khan returns with an axe to grind with the man-cub Mowgli.
Sethi does a particularly marvelous job in his role. The film is almost entirely generated using visual effects and Sethi is tasked with pretending he is running with wolves, getting flung through the trees by monkeys, singing “The Bare Necessities” with Baloo and getting tangled with the giant Kaa. He does all of this while giving Mowgli more character depth than the original animated film.
Mowgli is a clever boy. He’s often chastised by his wolf pack for using “tricks” in everyday life. Tools that are common to man, but uncommon in the animal kingdom, are greeted with fear by the rest of the jungle animals. This frustrates Mowgli, and it’s not until he meets Baloo that he learns there can be a positive use for these “tricks.” Sethi shows the frustrations and subsequent satisfaction of learning how to use your strengths in positive ways in life. His work is far beyond his years.
I would be remiss to sing Sethi’s praises without also mentioning the performance of Idris Elba as one of my all-time favorite movie villains. Elba voices the vicious Shere Khan — a tiger brought to life in terrifying fashion in this adaptation. Elba’s powerful voice makes Khan a particularly formidable character. As Khan struts on screen — clearly the top predator in the jungle — Elba speaks with an untouchable attitude toward the rest of the animals. It’s a perfect pairing of voice and character.
If I haven’t made my case clear by now, I am absolutely endorsing “The Jungle Book” for your viewing pleasure. Most theaters have the option of a regular or 3D viewing experience. I saw the film in the old-fashioned regular format; however I am considering going a second time because it appears to have the makings of a great 3D experience. The jungle is full of bright colors and furry critters to pop out at the viewer.
One word of recommendation for parents taking kids — this film is scarier than the original. I went with a friend and his two young boys, and they both experienced moments of fright. The fear was short-lived however, because following the film they both were running around talking about how much they loved King Louie. It’s certainly tolerable for children; it’s a kids movie after all, but it’s worth considering how your child might react.
Kids or not, “The Jungle Book” is a must-see for audience members of all ages. Treat yourself this weekend to an old classic that will surely come to stand on its own.
Contact David Dishman at firstname.lastname@example.org