Jun­gle casts its spell

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES - Leigh Paatsch

THE JUN­GLE BOOK (PG)

Di­rec­tor: Jon Favreau (Iron Man) Star­ring: Neel Sethi and the voices of Bill Mur­ray, Idris Elba, Ben Kings­ley, Scar­lett Jo­hans­son Ver­dict: No need to read. Just look at the pic­tures!

ON select oc­ca­sions at the cinema, looks are in­deed ev­ery­thing.

Most view­ers will heartily agree once they lay eyes on the as­ton­ish­ing vis­ual spec­ta­cle mounted by The Jun­gle Book.

The spe­cial ef­fects tech­nol­ogy re­spon­si­ble for this achieve­ment takes the pho­to­re­al­is­tic tech­niques used in the ground-break­ing The Life of Pi and lifts them to a whole new level.

You would never have guessed that both the lush jun­gle set­tings and the vast me­nagerie of an­i­mals mov­ing so con­vinc­ingly within them were all dig­i­tally com­posed inside a green­screen FX ware­house over­look­ing a Los An­ge­les free­way.

Such is the im­me­di­acy and au­then­tic­ity of The Jun­gle Book’s spell­bind­ing im­agery that you barely no­tice the sto­ry­telling never quite comes to­gether in the same sat­is­fy­ing way.

While di­rec­tor Jon Favreau has cherry-picked a few fresh el­e­ments from the many Jun­gle Book tales penned by au­thor Rud­yard Ki­pling, this new adap­ta­tion takes many of its struc­tural cues from the an­i­mated Dis­ney fam­ily fave from 1967.

As many will read­ily re­call, that clas­sic car­toon was also a sprightly mu­si­cal of some con­sid­er­able qual­ity.

Though two of its catchi­est songs have been re­tained (I Wanna Be Like You and Bare Ne­ces­si­ties) to lighten the mood when needed, this mod­ern up­date rein­ter­prets the fa­mil­iar ad­ven­tures of the lit­tle man-cub as the stuff of dour drama.

We join the imp­ish Mowgli (played by new­comer Neel Sethi) just as he is com­ing to the end of his time with the no­ble wolf­pack tribe that raised him.

The evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) has put a con­tract on the head of the child, which forces Mowgli to make tracks back to­wards hu­man civil­i­sa­tion.

With­out his trusted men­tor, the pan­ther Bagheera (Ben Kings­ley), to ad­vise him, Mowgli finds his marathon trek tough go­ing un­til he crosses paths with a big-hearted, honey-ad­dicted bear named Baloo (Bill Mur­ray). Though Shere Khan is hot on his trail, Mowgli’s chilled­out al­liance with Baloo – the true high­point of an oth­er­wise mid­dling screen­play – keeps the kid on the right track to­wards safety.

With the likes of Mur­ray, Elba and also Scar­lett Jo­hans­son (as the sin­is­ter snake Kaa) de­liv­er­ing vivid vo­cal char­ac­ter work, young Sethi is free to just be him­self in most scenes.

What his per­for­mance lacks in true pres­ence – bear­ing in mind he spends the en­tire film emot­ing at CGI fig­ures he could not see – Seth makes up for with sim­ple, nat­u­ral ap­peal.

How­ever, it is the com­plete sen­sory over­load of the jun­gle it­self that is the real star of the show here. This is one vi­tal vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence that jus­ti­fies the added ex­pense of a long, lux­u­ri­at­ing look through 3D glasses.

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