“The Jungle Book”: A breathtaking dash through the forest featuring newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli and the voices of Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley. 3 stars out of 4.
Stick around through the end credits of Jon Favreau’s enjoyable, live-action (sort of) remake of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” set in the wilds of India, and smile at this cheeky note: “Filmed in downtown Los Angeles.”
The film combines a sole human actor (newcomer Neel Sethi, as young Mowgli) with CG-created animals and digitally executed environments. Is it visually believable? Yes — to the point where you might find yourself brushing away flies, like those water buffalo — and often thrilling, too.
(A parenthetical pause, for a way-too-often-repeated rant: I saw this movie in IMAX 3D. The IMAX is swell, the 3D entirely unnecessary. I suspect that in 2D, the film would look even better — a little less blurry during chase scenes, for example. And it’ll save you a few bucks.)
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Jungle Book,’ with Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken. Directed by Jon Favreau, from a screenplay by Justin Marks, based on the books by Rudyard Kipling. 106 minutes. Rated PG for some sections of scary action and peril. Several theaters.
This “Jungle Book” is a Disney product, and consequently joined at the hip to the beloved animated 1967 version — and yes, this one includes a couple of songs you’ll recognize. (Another upcoming, non-Disney film version of the Kipling tales, called “Jungle Book,” without the “The” and directed by Andy Serkis, arrives in theaters in 2018.) Bring very small or sensitive children, though, at your peril: The animal action — particularly the python Kaa, and the vicious fights involving the tiger Shere Khan — is at times quite scary.
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But for the most part, the movie finds a family-friendly balance between stunning scenery, hold-your-breath action and animals having goofy conversations with each other. (“My bad,” murmurs a porcupine — voiced, in his final film, by comedian Garry Shandling, who died last month.) While Sethi isn’t exactly a nuanced actor (special effects can take you only so far), he’s a charmer, and his joy while careening through the jungle like it’s his own personal theme-park ride is infectious. The film moves us swiftly from one breathtaking scene to another: a dramatic mudslide; a climb up a near-vertical rock face (by a bear who’d really rather take a nap); a fairy-tale-misty lagoon, where water blends seamlessly with sky.
And the voice acting is terrific, particularly Idris Elba’s darkly threatening Shere Khan and Scarlett Johansson’s sibilantly sinister Kaa. (“Trussssst in me,” she hisses; brrrr.) And Bill Murray and Christopher Walken’s jaunty, jazzy renditions of, respectively, Baloo the bear singing “The Bare Necessities” and King Louie the ape warbling “I Wanna Be Like You” are … well, worth the ticket price right there. You’ll be endlessly humming them both the next day. Don’t ask me how I know this.