Walt Disney Pictures continues the live action trend of adapting its own catalogue of animated classics, themselves based on old works of literature and fable storytelling, with Iron Man director Jon Favreau's mostly computer-animated but live action appearing, visual effects rendered retelling of Rudyard Kipling's eponymous stories and the 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book.
Starring ten-year-old newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the story sticks to the familiar beats of an orphaned boy raised by wolves and escaping the dangers of jungle life while embracing his animalistic nature. Sethi gives his best fun and lively performance but ultimately falls flat as the film's lead and only non-animated character. It's difficult to believe his performance as a boy raised by animals even amongst a cast of talking (and occasionally singing) CGI creatures.
Outside of Mowgli, Favreau has assembled an all-star voice cast of talking animals including Bill Murray as Baloo (bear), Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (panther), Idris Elba as Shere Khan (tiger), Lupita Nyong'o as Raksha (wolf), Scarlett Johansson as Kaa (snake), Giancarlo Esposito as Akela (wolf), and Christopher Walken as King Louie (Gigantopithecus, perhaps the oddest fit). Elba, in particular, is stoically sinister in his all-out pursuit of the "man-cub" while Kingsley lends a smartly sophisticated demeanour as Mowgli's protector. Nyong'o is quite touching and warm as the mother wolf just as Murray is delightfully amusing as the laid-back bear.
Photographed by cinematographer Bill Pope with help from Weta Digital, the animated live action hybrid film is framed as a classic tale full of photo realistic yet slightly heightened visual splendour and wondrous imagery. The technically dazzling special effects, green screen work, and digital 3D is a lively experience transporting you into the depths of the jungle.
The Jungle Book is an ably matched adaption and full cinematic experience of both Kipling's original material and Disney's own brand of family adventure, but by virtue of appearing live action realistic, features many moments of grim fear and animal violence possibly not suitable for young children. It's wholly pleasant and pleasing yet still a bit underwhelming given the rather light material more suited for the page and cartoon fare.
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