Sunday, August 28, 2016

Video review: "The Jungle Book"

Here’s to show that not every recent remake has been a total waste of time. I actually prefer the new live-action version of “The Jungle Book,” with a heavy assist from CGI animals, to the original animated film from 1967. This one amps up the action, tamps down the musical numbers to an acceptable level, and delivers a fun and rousing family-friendly action adventure.

Neel Sethi is Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the jungle, especially adoptive mother Raksha (voice of Lupita Nyong’o) and Bagheera, a helpful black panther voiced by Ben Kingsley. But Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a hateful Bengal tiger, reviles all humans and wants Mowgli between his jaws. After tragedy, the boy is on the lam.

He meets up with Baloo, a lazy bear (Bill Murray) who wants to use Mowgli for his own purposes – mostly involving procuring honey – but starts to develop a tender spot for the kid. They face off with King Louie (Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan with his own monkey army who demands Mowgli give him the human secret of the “Red Flower” – the ability to create fire.

It’s interesting how this is a twist on the usual dynamic in human/animal stories. Here most of the animals, even benevolent ones like Baloo, are looking to exploit Mowgli for his physical attributes, instead of the other way around.

The digitally animated creatures are completely believable – their eyes, fur, movements and anthropomorphic emotions all seem quite authentic. When Shere Khan is bearing down, we can practically feel his breath on our necks.

The action scenes can be pretty intense, so the smallest children may need a little reassurance (or a pass until they’re older).

With its fancy computerized critters and throwback charm, “The Jungle Book” is a pleasing mix of old and new.

Bonus features are good, though you’ll have to upgrade to the Blu-ray combo pack to get most of them. The DVD comes only with a featurette on creating King Louie layer by digital layer. With the Blu-ray you add a making-of documentary with director Jon Favreau and his visual effects team, a feature on the casting call for Mowgli and an audio commentary track with Favreau.



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