Jungle Book Review!

Jondee here in the Jungle,

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (L-R) MOWGLI and BAGHEERA. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

First, you may have seen the animated Jungle Book (1967), but you haven’t this Jungle Book. Second, this is a visionary film on the level of Avatar (2009), and has similarities there since it was filmed entirely on a film set in Los Angeles. Also, comparing the two films, if you don’t see this on the big screen, you will have to go back to your sad, lonely cave. This all due to the vision of director Jon Favreau, who brings the same respect to the the source material as he did for Iron Man (2008). Third, this film is respectful of Rudyard Kipling’s work more so than the Disney film, Mowgli gets bloodied, bruised, and in such heart pounding danger that this would keep away the very young ones. Kipling’s collection of stories is rich in world building and that is on display here. Fourth, Neel Sethi is winning; bringing all of the emotions from having to leave behind his family to finding a new friend. He reminds me of Sabu who had the same charm in Thief of Bagdad (1940) and he played Mowgli in the 1942 Jungle Book. Lastly, the Disney track record is unbroken, last year with Star Wars: The Force Awakens then this year with Zootopia, this film, and next, Captain America: Civil War. It gives me the same confidence when I was a kid that you can trust any film with the name Disney on it.

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It opens with the animated Disney castle and a pull back to the movie title and into the jungle. The animal life and jungle vistas are so convincing that you let go any eye that there is some trick behind it. This runs throughout the film with new landscapes and animals. There is also a hint of the cartoon score by George Bruns.  The effects are from WETA Digital with reference puppets by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Narration by Bagheera (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley) introduces the Man Cub, Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi). He is in a race with his wolf brothers and takes to the trees followed by Bagheera, the black panther. The panther is given a voice of military detachment to guide Mowgli so he can fit in as a wolf. His father, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), and mother, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) have him recite the Law of the Jungle. Some time passes, and the river dries up, the porcupine, Ikki (voiced by Garry Shandling! his last performance!), is possessive of every object he comes across (very funny), and finds the Peace Rock. This enables all of the animals to gather and share the remaining water in a pool. The other animal to join them is Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), sheer brutality and revenge is conveyed through Elba’s voice. He calls on the Law to send away the Man Cub, Akela says he is part of the pack. Shere Khan promises to return when the Peace Rock disappears with the coming rain.

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The rains return and the wolves in council argue about Mowgli. He climbs up there and tells them that he will leave them. His mother, Raksha, is sad at his parting, her little cub has grown up. Bagheera leads Mowgli to reach the Man Village. They run into an elephant herd that Bagheera said made the jungle plowing with their tusks. The duo show proper respect bowing before the elephants. This screamed out the Kipling book to me. Not singing elephants, they are voiceless, but powerful animals. They start to make their way through the high brush when Bagheera tells Mowgli to run. Shere Khan leaps at him and Bagheera fights with him until defeated. The tiger bolts after Mowgli and he leaps off of the cliff into mud flats. Buffalos start to a stampede and Mowgli is clever enough to catch hold of one to escape. At night, the buffalos struggle on a cliffside when the rain causes a landslide. Mowgli plunges into the river and holds onto a fallen tree. He wakens to use his tricks to pull down some fruit. Some monkeys steal it and Mowgli is confronted by Kaa the python (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). She reveals the truth about his father using a torch to burn Shere Khan before he is finished by the tiger and also the destructive power of the Red Flower, fire, used by man. Kaa is about to swallow Mowgli, but he is saved. Mowgli wakes up to see Baloo (Bill Murray almost steals the show with his voice work!). He wants Mowgli’s help to get at the honey combs on a cliff, Mowgli is stung several times, before he uses his tricks to protect himself and collect the honey combs. Murray and Sethi even give a rendition of “Bare Necessities”, the Disney song by Terry Gilkyson, almost cut from that film. This all gives a hint at the wonder and characters that are in this movie. Five Red Flowers out of Five!

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