Review: 'The Jungle Book'

'Iron Man' director Jon Favreau impresses with 'remarkable' take on Rudyard Kipling.
BEAR NECESSITIES: Bill Murray, voice of the lovable bear Baloo in the new live-action 'Jungle Book' movie, provides a place to rest in this sometimes hectic film.

Some critics complained that Rudyard Kipling wouldn't have recognized Disney's 1968 animated Jungle Book, the story of a feral boy's adventures with animals. Jon Favreau's remarkable computer-animated and live-action version has at least a sprig of Kipling's verse in it. Raised by wolves, under the supervision of the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is taught the wolf's code: 'The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.'

Like the original, this version waits on the arrival of the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and his corny but earworm-hatching song about the bare necessities of life. Baloo has a different take on the code: 'That's not a song. That's propaganda.' This sometimes hectic film needed a place to rest, and the ever-leisurely, ever-slippery Murray provides it. Incomprehensibly, the serpent's song, 'Trust in Me,' is missing here. Surely, Scarlett Johansson had enough voice to murmur the tune. Siouxsie and the Banshees' drone-and harp-laden 1987 cover shows just how much fearfulness the number can have.

Favreau's experience directing the CGI-heavy Iron Man seems to have paid dividends here, as the animation is of the highest order. Even recently, putting realistic talking animals on the same screen as human actors involved making the motion of the muzzles match the dialogue. Here, the facial expressions of the beasts work in tandem with the excellent voice overs.

As the disfigured tiger Sher Khan, Idris Elba succeeds in acting a type we've all encountered: a murderously short-tempered creature who considers himself quite reasonable and patient. This jungle, a refuge of every animal around, has megafauna: a King Kong sized orangutan voiced by Christopher Walken. Who but Walken would have the wit to give the ape King Louie elements of the shadow-lurking Brando in Apocalypse Now, as well as the wildman singer Louis Prima?

Mowgli is a growing boy trying on roles, fascinated by the personalities and abilities of the animals he encounters, and terrified by the destructiveness of the adult human world. The film's single best idea is showing how the humans live—raging, gesticulating, swaying, silhouetted in front of a monstrous crimson bonfire bursting with sparks. The bloom of the 'red flower' seems to be Mowgli's only weapon in a realm of fangs and claws, until he realizes how his craft and skills evens the odds.

The Jungle Book
PG; 105 Mins.

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