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The Jungle Book (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

Starring Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony, Max Favreau, Chloe Hechter, Asher Blinkoff, Knox Gagnon, Sara Arrington, Russell Peters, Sam Raimi, Madeline Favreau and Jon Favreau.

Screenplay by Justin Marks.

Directed by Jon Favreau.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  105 minutes.  Rated PG.

The Walt Disney company has spent much of the last couple of decades cleaning out their closets and resurrecting and reimagining their animated classics as live-action films for a new generation.  Sometimes this works surprisingly well – last year’s Cinderella was deservedly spectacularly well-received and Saving Mr. Banks was a clever (if self-referential) twist on Mary Poppins.

Other times are more exploitive and problematically put together – the recent live action Alice in Wonderland films, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the earliest experiment with this style, 101 Dalmations and its sequel 102 Dalmations.

Sometimes it is just inexplicable – the just theatrically-released Pete’s Dragon brings up two questions; who was waiting for a remake of that barely-remembered, not particularly good movie?  And what does the new Pete’s Dragon have to do with the original except for a very vaguely similar concept?

Jon Favreau’s reboot of The Jungle Book, based on the tales of Rudyard Kipling as well as the 1967 Disney cartoon film of the same name, seemed like one of the more unlikely ones.  Therefore, it is nice that it is mostly a surprisingly good update of the franchise.  Keep in mind, it is significantly darker than the animated movie, and the musical score is downplayed here – only two of the songs (“The Bare Necessities” and “The Monkey Song”) are done on screen, though “Trust in Me” is teased in the story and the full song makes the end credits.

Also, the musical numbers which do survive play very differently in this setting.  For example, the biggest musical number here, King Louie’s version of “The Monkey Song (I Wanna Be Like You),” feels significantly creepier than the original animated version when sung by a giant orangutan with Christopher Walken’s voice.

However, the whole story is stretched out (little snatches of The Lion King show up in the oddest places) and changed from a sweet musical comedy to a special-effects driven action film.

The most important special effect is simply the animals that populate this world.  Pretty much all of them are completely computer animated, but I have to give credit where it is due, they look pretty realistic.  Even when they talk – because let’s face it, in the movies talking animals and babies just look creepy – the animals almost look realistic, yes still a little weird talking, but the effect works much better here than most places you have seen.

Honestly the storyline is tweaked a bit too much for the film’s own good, whole subplots about the humans’ “red flower” (fire) and King Louie and tiger Shera Khan’s nefarious plans are a little overdone.  However, Bill Murray as bear friend Baloo is a hoot, and all in all the rest of the characters are intriguing.

To be completely honest, given the choice, I’d still prefer to watch the animated Jungle Book over this reboot.  But as reimagining goes, the new Jungle Book pulls off the task with panache.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 30, 2016.

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