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Three Views: The Jungle Book

April 15, 2016

The Jungle Book Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The Jungle Book PosterThe experience of watching The Jungle Book is so absorbing and compelling on a purely visual level, that we almost immediately forget that what we are seeing, save for human lead Neel Sethi, has been created almost entirely through the magic of special effects.

The animals and landscapes that make up this world look so realistic that we may as well be watching a nature documentary, and the technical wizardry behind this latest adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories is marvellous to behold.  The fact that it’s loaded with heart just makes it even better.

Along with last year’s Cinderella, The Jungle Book is also one of the best examples yet for Disney’s move to update their library of animated classics, retaining some of the most iconic elements of their beloved 1967 cartoon version of the story, while also being incredibly entertaining in its own right.

Raised by kind mother wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) deep in the jungle, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a Man Cub who has grown up surrounded by animals and obeying the laws of the land.  The panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) acts as a protector to him, but the menacing Shere Khan (Idris Elba) is out for vengeance, a tiger who fears man and their “red flower” of fire.  Not wanting to endanger the other animals, Mowgli takes it upon himself to flee the jungle and search for the man village, a journey that takes him to Baloo (Bill Murray), a loveable bear who enlists the Man Cub to help him find honey, and teaches him about all those Bare Necessities of Life.

The plot hues closely to its animated counterpart, even finding space for a couple of the classic songs, which are woven naturally into the story.  The film hits the ground running with an endlessly impressive opening sequence where Mowgli leaps between tree branches, the camera following him with a fluidity of movement that makes it thrilling to watch.  Another early sequence puts us right in there with a herd of stampeding buffalo, the camera swooping around them, as dirt appears to splatter the lens.  A time lapse sequence near the beginning that shows the passage of time in the jungle is simply mesmerizing.

There is so much to take in on a visual level, that The Jungle Book is an almost overwhelming experience at times, begging for a second viewing.  The visual effects that bring this world to life are so breathtaking and photorealistic, that we quickly forget we aren’t watching real animals in practical environments, and that pretty much all of this was created on sound stages and through computers.  Every scene of the film is so painstakingly detailed, every single leaf and drop of water looks so realistic, that it’s just easy to get distracted by what is happening in the background as the main action unfolds.

The fact that the stunningly rendered animal characters are able to be both realistic and take on aspects of the people voicing them is another one of the most impressive aspects of the film, and the entire cast delivers fully fleshed out performances.  Ben Kingsley sets a soothing tone as narrator and paternal figure, and Idris Elba breaths terrifying life into his villainous role. Scarlett Johansson gives seductive voice to the dangerously charming snake Kaa, and Christopher Walken puts on a show as giant ape King Louie.  But the real standout of the cast is Bill Murray, who is simply magical as Baloo, allowing all of his signature comedic touches to shine through in this animated bear.  It’s a wonder to behold.

Newcomer Neel Sethi, pretty much the only live action element seen in the film, impressively holds his own alongside the animated animals, delivering a performance that feels both playful and completely natural.  Director Jon Favreau shows a sure hand bringing this whole world to life, proving once again that he is one of the best entertainers in the business.  The 3D allows us to look even deeper into this world, and it’s worth the extra if you can afford it, but not an absolute necessity to enjoy the film.

This is not only a massive technical achievement, but also a piece of superior family entertainment that delivers everything you could have hoped for following the high standard set by the original animated film.  It’s an adventure that moves at a sure pace, delivering delightful character moments and some genuine thrills, along with scene after scene of breathtaking images.

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The Jungle Book Picture 1

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and Baloo (Bill Murray) in The Jungle Book

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The Jungle Book Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Most of us are familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – a collection of stories/fables, three of which centred around a young boy named Mowgli who was raised in the jungle by wolves.  This is not the first time the tales have been put to screen either – but what we get this time around is another adaptation that happily works.

A combination of live-action and CGI, the new Jungle Book is a very well-crafted film.  Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli, performing the role impeccably well with his CGI co-stars (filmed with green screens).  The animals in the world all have great voice performances – with Lupita Nyong’o as wolf Raksha, Ben Kinglsey as panther Bagheera, Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, and Idris Elba as the angry tiger Shere Khan.

Sethi seems completely natural in the role and makes us believe that he is actually talking to the animals we see on screen beside him, as he inhabits and runs through the obstacle course-like jungle.  The animated backgrounds are amazingly detailed, and it is hard to step back and remember that they aren’t actually there.  Staying true to the story beats we expect from the classic tale, this adaptation of The Jungle Book also borrows many elements from the classic 1967 hand-drawn animated film, while still feeling fresh.

Overall, this is a entertaining piece of family entertainment that is visually stunning, makes good use of its 3D, and will introduce a new audience to the classic story.  It is definitely worth seeing – especially in a theatre where the immersive world of the jungle can truly be appreciated.

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The Jungle Book Picture 2

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) in The Jungle Book

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The Jungle Book Review By Tony Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

As cub scouts in the early ’60s, we had to identify with the wolf cubs in Kipling’s Victorian era Jungle Books and address our adult leader as Akela. When the animated Disney musical came out in 1967, I didn’t think it could do justice to the serious tone of the books, and I avoided seeing it until recently, much preferring the classic technicolor live action 1942 Korda version with the Indian actor known as Sabu. Though it appears to be a live action remake of the Disney animated franchise, their latest version of The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau features humans in a CGI environment mostly filmed as the closing credits proudly state in downtown Los Angeles.

The film depicts several adventures from the books of the “man-cub” Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised by wolves. His panther mentor Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) also provides narration throughout the film. When his life is threatened by the vindictive tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), Mowgli makes his way toward the “man village” meeting allies, notably the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) along the way, but also hostile characters including the python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) who tries to gain his “trussst” and the gigantic ape king Louie (Christopher Walken) who wants Mowgli to bring him man’s “red flower” (fire). Other members of the excellent cast include Lupita Nyong’o as the mother wolf and the unforgettable voice of Garry Shandling (may he rest in peace) as a porcupine.

As the only real person in most of the film, Neel Sethi had to act with muppets standing in for the CGI animals animated by motion capture. With Bill Murray and to a lesser extent with Christopher Walken, the motion capture combined with a witty script worked brilliantly, as I could convince myself for example that Baloo was Bill Murray as a bear. The action sequences were also convincing and really exciting. If like me you don’t really miss the songs from previous versions (though they are briefly reprised here), I would say this version of The Jungle Book may be the best, though I still like the Korda one as well.

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Consensus: Boasting stunning visual effects and providing great entertainment, this new version of The Jungle Book both pays loving tribute to the 1967 animated film, and serves as one of the best adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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