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Review: Disney’s The Jungle Book a virtual triumph


If you’re of a certain age, you have fond memories of watching Disney animated features in the theater, either in their original theatrical release or the regular re-releases over the years. With the advent of Home Video (then DVD, the Blu-ray, and now digital), there is no longer a need to re-release movies theatrically. But there is a reason to remake them. A remake gives Disney the chance to breath some life into the movie franchise and attract new younger audiences, which has ripples throughout the various Disney divisions. Hopefully profitable ones.

The new “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man” and “Chef”) is both something completely its own and a remake of the original 1967 animated Disney feature of the same title. But by deviating somewhat from the original, it maintains a balance between nostalgia and modern movie making and is probably the best remake so far in the new pantheon of live-action remakes (even though it’s majority computer generated animation).

The movie is anchored by Neel Sethi whose performance as Mowgli, the “man cub” who is left in the jungle and raised by a pack of wolves. His work as an actor is amazing considering he was 10 years old when it was filmed and that nearly everything around him was digitally created. He acted to puppets and tennis balls and the world was layered in later.

Idris Elba brings a gravitas to the villainous tiger Shere Khan. His reason for not wanting a man cub in the jungle may be rooted in personal experience, but the way he gets his way makes him one of the scariest villains in Disney lore.

Worth mentioning is Christopher Walken as King Louie. He plays him with a ganster brogue and perhaps a little bit of Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now. Going in, I thought that Bill Murray as Baloo would be distracting, but it actually worked pretty well. Scarlett Johansson’s take on Kaa was also memorable. For the most part the shtick of talking animals isn’t as distracting as I thought it would be. Just remind yourself it’s a Disney film, not Shakespeare.

As is often the csse in Disney movies, there were some dark moments that upset young children. The appearance of Kaa is a big one. However, there are plenty of lighter moments and there is even singing. Two songs make an appearance in the movie (only one of which feels a little forced) and two songs are in the credits (definitely stick around for the credits, btw. they’re very cute).

Since the movie is almost entirely composited in a computer, Director Jon Favreau had more creative control than most. Almost always this is to the good, but there were a few moments that brought me out of the film (for instance: water splashes on a camera lens we know isn’t there) and reminded me I was watching a movie, not actually there with Mowgli in the story.

The movie makes great use of 3D. Often putting the audience smack dab in the middle of the jungle in a way that makes you feel like the elements on screen are in the room with you. The much vaunted use of photo-realism to create the animals and the scenery really worked for me. I definitely felt like I was watching a movie in a real jungle not a piece of digital animation.

In the end, fans of the original will like this movie. People who just want a great movie at the cutting edge of technology will also find something to love in Disney’s The Jungle Book. The movie is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long and is rated PG.