Entertainment

Special effects star in re-imagining of ‘Jungle Book’

Shere Khan the tiger, voiced by Idris Elba, appears in a scene from, "The Jungle Book."
Shere Khan the tiger, voiced by Idris Elba, appears in a scene from, "The Jungle Book." Disney

What It’s About

“The Jungle Book” is a grand spectacle, taking advantage of modern technology for a sweeping and sensational visual experience.

This live-action re-imagining of Disney’s kinder, gentler adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 stories, which was the 1967 animated feature, isn’t exactly the “Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins. Only Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is real.

The animals are a combination of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, motion-capture actors, and digital effects — and they are very realistic.

The man-cub Mowgli, raised by wolves, encounters the hazards of the jungle and a variety of creatures as he sets off from his home turf for safety reasons. The fierce tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) wants him out of the jungle, which has dangers galore.

Warning: Several scenes may be too intense for younger children, as it quickly veers from whimsy to frightening. There’s music and comedy, but also darker drama.

Performances

The voice work brings this tale to vivid life, all perfectly cast. The best is Bill Murray, ever the funny con man, as the lovable bear Baloo.

Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) is ominous again as a beast of another kind — a four-legged one.

Scarlett Johansson is seductive as the python Kaa. Oscar winner Ben Kingsley is the wise panther Bagheera, with Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita N’yongo as Mowgli’s wolf parents, Akela and Rakshi.

Christopher Walken chews the scenery as a hulking larger-than-life ape King Louie. He’s a terrific song-and-dance man, and reprises “I Wanna Be Like You” over the credits.

As the young lad, Neel Sethi captures the curiosity and resourcefulness of a boy on his own in the animal kingdom.

On a bittersweet note, recently departed comedian Garry Shandling can be heard as a comical critter.

What works

The journey is beautifully rendered, bringing to mind the exquisite effects in “Life of Pi.” Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man’) keeps all the elements distinct and the talking animals are convincing.

Stay for the credits. A book illustrator’s work is re-created into pop-up scenes as they begin, and “Trust in Me,” and the Oscar’winning “Bare Necessities” recorded by Dr. John play over the scroll of names.

What doesn’t work

The original songs by Disney’s dynamic duo of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (“Mary Poppins”), a major part of the 1967 movie, are not as plentiful or full versions.

“The Jungle Book” is an enduring tale. Since 1967, cinema technology has changed drastically, and we can see the story in a new light. But we’ve also had “The Lion King,” numerous versions of ‘Tarzan” and “The Planet of the Ape” prequels, which have raised the bar. “The Jungle Book” is an admirable effort, more for its computer-generated razzle-dazzle than its ability to engage us deeply.

“The Jungle Book

  • Director: Jon Favreau
  • Cast: Neel Sethi plus voices of Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Lupito N'yongo
  • Rated PG (some sequences of scary action and peril)
  • 105 minutes
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