The Jun­gle Book

HK Magazine - - FILM -

(USA) Ad­ven­ture. Di­rected by Jon Favreau. Star­ring

Neel Sethi and the voices of Ben Kings­ley, Bill Mur­ray, Idris Elba, Lupita Ny­ong’o, Scar­lett Jo­hans­son. Cat­e­gory IIA. 106 Min­utes. Opened May 26. For those who grew up watch­ing the 1967 car­toon ver­sion of “The Jun­gle Book” based on Rud­yard Ki­pling’s sto­ries, it seems no re­make could ever match up to the magic and charm of its pre­de­ces­sor. Plus, how does one go about mak­ing “real” talk­ing jun­gle an­i­mals look con­vinc­ing on screen any­way?

A tall or­der for Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) and team, but some­how they make it work: Armed with some kind of vis­ual ef­fects sor­cery, in “The Jun­gle Book” they’re able to cre­ate al­most Na­tional Ge­o­graphic-wor­thy scenes of the an­i­mal king­dom. But this story isn’t brought to life sim­ply through well-placed pix­els: in­stead Favreau lets the hu­man­ity and emo­tion of this clas­sic story shine through.

The sto­ry­line is very much loyal to the car­toon, though film­ing in a live ac­tion style col­ors the film with a much darker, but richer am­bi­ence. The pro­tag­o­nist, 11-year-old “man­cub” Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) is res­cued as a baby in the In­dian jun­gle by the stern but pro­tec­tive black pan­ther Bagheera (Ben Kings­ley), and is raised by wolves. Strug­gling to fit in with his pack, he catches the at­ten­tion of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a Ben­gal tiger who vows to have Mowgli de­stroyed. With the help of Bagheera, he’s urged to re­join his own kind at the vil­lage where he will be safe—and he meets a host of friends and foes along the way who teach him lessons about be­ing him­self, not just an­other species.

A new­comer to film, 12-year-old Neel Sethi does an ex­cep­tional job as Mowgli, es­pe­cially when you re­al­ize that he acted ev­ery scene alone against a green back­drop— he’s the only phys­i­cal ac­tor in the en­tire film, whereas a ros­ter of A-lis­ters show off their spot-on voice act­ing. The lux­u­ri­ous voices of Kings­ley and Elba, the bum­bling hu­mor of Baloo

(Bill Mur­ray) and the se­duc­tive hisses of ScarJo as Kaa the boa con­stric­tor are all com­ple­mented by their beau­ti­fully an­i­mated char­ac­ters and en­vi­ron­ments.

By il­lus­trat­ing the an­i­mals so close to re­al­ity, dan­ger and vi­o­lence are sud­denly all the more real. At times, this is ef­fec­tive: Shere Khan’s cold cru­elty is ter­ri­fy­ing. At other times, the sin­is­ter tone can cause a dis­joint: A case in point is King Louie (Christo­pher Walken)’s scene, in which the gi­ant orangutan king creeps out of the shad­owed ru­ins... to croon the groovy big band num­ber “I Wan’na Be Like You,” which adds un­canny ten­sion as Louie smashes his tem­ple ruin abode. It turns out, Dis­ney song num­bers and live ac­tion just don’t mesh very well. Thank­fully, Baloo and Mowgli’s song “Bare Ne­ces­si­ties” fares a lit­tle bet­ter.

What gave the orig­i­nal car­toon its ever­last­ing charm were lessons it taught about grow­ing up, about fol­low­ing the rules and break­ing them some­times, about the dan­gers of adult en­nui, about the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing na­ture, and so much more. Cou­pled with the mys­tery and ad­ven­ture of the jun­gle, “The Jun­gle Book” has an un­de­ni­able, time­less ap­peal. With new, de­tailed graph­ics and a more grown-up, darker di­men­sion, this re­make won’t re­place the orig­i­nal car­toon in our hearts: But it comes very, very close. Eve­lyn Lok

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