What’s the Story?
Disney takes another swing at The Jungle Book, the classic collection of Rudyard Kipling tales the studio originally adapted to film in the well-remembered1967 feature of the same name.
Director Jon Favreau (The Avengers, Iron Man) eschews the traditional animation of the original for a mix of live action and very convincing CGI.
13-year-old newcomer Neel Sethi plays the even younger-looking Mowgli, the orphaned “man-cub” who was rescued as a baby by the kindly panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and, at Bagheera’s request, raised by a family of wolves. The wise, loving and brave parents/pack leaders Akela and Raksha are vocalized by Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o.
All is fairly-idyllic until the legendarily-evil and mysteriously-vengeful Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) arrives on the scene demanding the wolves surrender Mowgli to him. After much discussion, it is decided that wisest course of action is to have Bagheera take Mowgli to a human encampment several miles away where it is presumed he’ll be safer.
Along the dangerous journey, the panther and the boy become separated. Among Mowgli’s encounters are the deceptive and deadly python Kaa (Scarlett Johannson) and the power-mad ape King Louie (Christopher Walken), Kaa merely seen Mowgli as dinner while Louie sees him as a means to grasping the human power to create and control fire.
On the far nicer end of the ledger, Mowgli also meets a lovable con artist of a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and Baloo’s porcupine pal Ikki (the late Garry Shandling in his last screen role).
An out and classic film that’s appropriate for families – though a couple of scenes (i.e. those involving the truly-scary villains) may be a bit too scary for some younger, sensitive kids.
But the plot-driven violence is kept within reasonable proportions and never overwhelms the film’s heartfelt story of humane animals risking everything for the “man-cub” they have come to love as one of their own.
Neel Sethi is terrific as Mowgli, utilizing his expressive face and natural acting chops to establish believable connections and relationships with the CGI characters. The all-star voice cast is uniformly good. Kingsley, Nyong’o and Murray are particularly likable while Elba, Johannson and Walken are appropriately unlikable and menacing. No one can say this movie doesn’t establish a strong line between good and evil. All in all, Favreau has delivered a movie that will take its place among Disney’s greatest classics. It’s very well done family fare that will entertain and move kids and parents alike.
Running Time: 105 min.
Violence (on a scale of 1-5): 3
Discussion Topics: What is the danger of giving into a bully’s demands in exchange for peace? Why is holding vengeance destructive for the one seeking revenge? Why are the characters motivated by love (i.e. Mowgli, the wolves, the panther and the bear) ultimately happier than those (the tiger, the snake and the ape) motivated by their own selfish desires?