Monday, December 12, 2016

Movie Monday: The Jungle Book

Continuing our run of movies based on classic novels & jungle adventures (last week I reviewed The Legend of Tarzan), my husband and I recently watched the newest live-action version of The Jungle Book. Well, it is sort of live action - the main character is a live actor and the rest of the movie is all CGI. It's technically pretty amazing and also an entertaining new version of an old favorite.

Unlike The Legend of Tarzan, this is not a new take on the old story but more a new way of telling the classic story by Rudyard Kipling. You know how this one goes: a baby boy is found abandoned in the jungle & is raised by the animals. In Tarzan, it was apes; in The Jungle Book, it is a pack of wolves (why there are wolves & bears in the jungle is something I've never understood, but, hey, go with the flow). Shere-Khan, the tiger, has a vendetta against the boy, Mowgli, so his wolf family decides that he (and they) will be safer if they return him to the "man village." Mowgli's longtime friend (and the one who found him originally), Bagheera, the black panther, accompanies him on the journey back. Along the way, Mowgli meets Baloo the bear, a happy-go-lucky guy who convinces him to stay and live the easy life, and King Louie, a giant orangutan, who wants Mowgli to teach him about fire.

I grew up on Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book, as did our sons; it's an old favorite at our house. So, I was skeptical of a new version when the old one seems perfect to me. The latest take on the classic, though, surprised me in a lot of ways. First, technically, it is incredible. The entire movie was filmed against a green screen with child actor Neel Sethi acting all by himself as Mowgli, interacting with the jungle and his animal friends. You have to see it to believe it. You spend the first few minutes staring at the details of the environment and the animals, as Mowgli runs, jumps, and crawls through the jungle, but then you just accept it all as "real" and forget it is all CGI (go on, watch the trailer below and see for yourself). It's quite a feat, and Sethi is excellent in his first starring role.

The next surprise was the perfect slate of top-shelf actors playing our favorite Jungle Book characters: Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as the python Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louie, and - best of all - Bill Murray as Baloo the bear. When we first heard Murray's familiar voice from Baloo, we whooped in delight. Can you think of any better actor to play the lazy, wise-cracking, fun-loving bear? Soon after that, I was just saying to my husband, "It's very good so far, but I do miss the songs," when Murray as Baloo started humming the familiar melody of The Bare Necessities. Another cheer from our family room! Not all of the songs from the animated movie are included here, but certainly the two best were included - Bare Necessities (sung by Baloo and Mowgli) and I Wanna Be Like You (sung by King Louie), plus Trust Me (sung by Kaa/Scarlett Johansson). That's how I knew this new version was also a Disney production. We were quite happy about that and sang the songs for the next 24 hours around the house (and now they are back in my head again, typing this!).

So, overall, we very much enjoyed this new version of an old family favorite. They've kept the best of the old animated movie and made the most of this new technology and the voice-acting for a fun and very entertaining experience. My husband and I watched it on our own, but this is a great film for the entire family to watch together, rated PG (my son and his girlfriend saw it in the theater when it came out & recommended it to us). Now we want to read the original book!

The Jungle Book is currently out on DVD, available through Redbox, streaming through Netflix and for $2.99 on Amazon (link below).



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