The Jungle Book: A Live-Action Remake That Delivers

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The Jungle Book: A Live-Action Remake That Delivers

A Live-Action Remake That Surpasses Expectations

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Five years ago, if you had mentioned a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, I would have dismissed the idea without a second thought. It’s not that I’m against remakes; I appreciate the concept of reimagining classics for a new generation and giving flawed projects a second chance. I enjoyed The Magnificent Seven and thought The Departed was the best movie of 2006. I even defend A Nightmare on Elm Street.

My skepticism wasn’t due to Disney “messing with my childhood.” I never really liked The Jungle Book growing up, and even now, I can only muster the barest interest in watching it. The real issue was Disney’s track record with live-action remakes of their animated classics. I’d seen Alice in Wonderland and 101 Dalmatians and didn’t need to see The Jungle Book.

Disney’s Live-Action Remakes Take a Turn for the Better

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However, my attitude changed with the release of Maleficent and the utterly magical Cinderella. Both films critically reexamined the original films through almost seven decades of social evolution. While faithful to the original narratives, they intelligently reimagined them into unique, high-quality films in their own right. They weren’t just shameless cash-grabs; they were a new set of classics for a new generation of movie-goers.

So when I found out that there was not only going to be a Jungle Book remake but that it would be directed by Jon Favreau (of Iron Man fame) and star Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, and Christopher Walken, my initial reaction was one of genuine, childlike excitement. Given Disney’s recent direction with movies like Maleficent, Cinderella, and Into the Woods, I was confident that they would not only make a good movie but likely one of the year’s best.

A Sensational Remake That Delivers

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The Jungle Book is absolutely sensational. It is the true beginning of the blockbuster season: if not in fact, then in spirit. It’s easily the best merger of big-budget special effects and A-list talent since The Force Awakens, and it gives that movie a run for its money in terms of visuals. It blends physical sets and special effects with seamless effort.

Writer Justin Marks and director Jon Favreau know exactly what could be trimmed from the earlier film and what was essential. They made changes to streamline the narrative into a better-paced, better-focused, and generally more interesting story. Emphasis is placed on Mowgli and his lupine family, both his attempts to fit in with the pack and their attempts to protect him from Shere Khan. Show-stopping musical numbers are replaced — or at least followed up by — show-stopping set pieces.

Character Development That Works

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Walken’s King Louie is the perfect cross between Vito Corleone and King Kong. Johansson’s Kaa screams “bad touch” in a way that we haven’t seen since Sarah Jessica Parker’s witch in Hocus Pocus. Kingsley’s Bagheera is developed into a more well-meaning father, and Murray’s Baloo into a more “Uncle Buck”-esque buddy toward Mowgli than ever before. All of it absolutely works in service to the film.

That’s not to say that the film is without its shortcomings. Bill Murray sounds uncharacteristically low-energy throughout the movie. Additionally, he and Mowgli don’t interact for quite as long as I would like before they hit a tough patch in their relationship. Although decent enough for what they needed him to do, it is pretty obvious in certain parts of the movie that Neel Sethi is a thirteen-year-old kid in his first actual movie role.

A Near-Perfect Family Adventure

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While deservedly rated PG (for “some sequences of scary action and peril”), it is far closer to the PG-13 end of the spectrum than it is the G end. Shere Karn is terrifyingly reminiscent of The Lion King‘s Scar (especially in the film’s climax) and will certainly terrify younger audience members. Kaa’s seduction and near consumption of Mowgli have the menacing air of something a touch more adult than typical “kids’ fair.”

When all is said and done, however, Jungle Book is hands down the best movie not named Zootopia in theaters right now. It’s an exciting new take on the franchise that actually made a Jungle Book fan out of me. It’s a near-perfect family adventure that’s just in time for summer; just maybe think about leaving the really little ones at home.

Rating: 8/10

Buy on BluRay: Yes

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