THE JUNGLE BOOK, in various incarnations, has always been a highlight of my entertainment life. The live-action classic with Sabu was always a "Family Classics" treat, and I always felt that the animated version was one of Disney's best in that field (remember, back then you were lucky to catch a theatrical screening of the latter once every seven years or so). And that should come as no surprise, as Rudyard Kipling delivered a genuine rip-snorter of an adventure--that story is going to sell itself if you treat it with respect. You can play it straight or you can add laughs and musical numbers... but if you're telling that story, you've already got the advantage.
So--I limited myself to one viewing of the theatrical trailer for Jon Favreau's new all-star Disney remake, and I studiously avoided any of the 'behind-the-scenes' hype plentifully available all over the Net. I could tell that we had a live-action Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and amazing CGI creations with celebrity voices making up the rest of the cast, but I wasn't entirely certain if the new film was going to play more like the Sabu thriller or more like the previous animation. Would they even go... the musical route?
The answer is: all of the above. This is one case where a mega-budget, major studio fantasy project was truly worth every penny. We have reached the point in special-effects artistry where the one lone live-action character (Sethi proves an excellent casting choice as Mowgli) can blend perfectly with a realistic animal kingdom (and how great is it that we can now enjoy such convincing animal action without the need to exploit or risk the safety of the actual living creatures?) while the 'name' cast infuses their characters with... humanity? It may sound gimmicky and effortless on the surface. Of COURSE Bill Murray should be Baloo. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera. Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Oh, and how about Christopher Walken for King Louie? Sure, this could have sounded great on paper and fizzled when actually put into practice, but I assure you this is not the case--when you see and hear these characters in action (and I'm sure you will, as the rest of the country seems to be doing just that) you won't be disappointed.
Perhaps the most original casting choice (and certainly one of the most effective) involved playing Kaa as a female this time around--Scarlett Johansson adds an extra touch of hypnotic seduction to her sequence, although her song "Trust In Me" was saved for the end credit sequence.
Yes, the songs are back. Not all of them (the elephants in this case give us true awe and majesty as opposed to military slapstick), but just enough to please old-school Disney aficionados such as myself. When Baloo is caught humming "The Bear Necessities," I thought that was a one-shot in-joke, but he does go on to teach Mowgli the rest of the lyrics (and Mowgli has something to teach him in return). But if it's a show-stopper you want? Just wait for the epic "King Louie" sequence and let Walken do his thing. Now, this being somewhat more realistic than the animated cartoon, you can't expect Baloo to crash the party in a coconut bra (one of the best animated Disney moments EVER), but Murray/Baloo makes a great entrance and makes it his own all the same.
That's the beauty of the new JUNGLE BOOK--it has all the toys in the world to play with but it never loses sight of just how to tell a terrific story.
Which is more than I can say for the theatre in which we saw the new movie. Seems a good chunk of the seating has been torn out and replaced by brand new "D-BAG" (oh, sorry, I meant "D-BOX") technology. See, for an extra eight bucks apiece, you can sit in seats that rock back and forth during the action scenes so you can feel like you're "in" the movie. We watched the seats sway in front of us and felt the vibrations even though we turned down the first-hand experience. For an extra four bucks you can see the movie in 3-D, and you can save a whopping dollar by reserving the simultaneous 3-D/D-BOX experience for a total of twelve dollars PLUS the original ticket price. And oh yes... there's even a MOVIE in there somewhere!
Well... I'm sure that the new JUNGLE BOOK looks mighty fine in 3-D, but hopefully I've conveyed that this one's going to entertain you regardless of the format. Oh, and on a personal note, I was quite pleased to see the new JUNGLE BOOK come to an end exactly where it did. You'll know why.
Moderator: Chris Slack
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