Family audiences have gone in droves, but I only found it to be a slight diversion. The Jungle Book has a decent young actor in Neel Sethi as Mowgli the man-cub, the boy who has grown up amongst the wild animals but is at odds with a couple of angry animals that would prefer to see his exodus – or death. Often, all we care about are the small visual stuff, the swinging from tree limbs and dashes across the plains. The best scenes are lushly green with backdrop waterfalls. But there is a little bit too much dry brown imagery (and dim lighting), some of it I think shrouds the sometimes shabby computer generated effects – I almost wanted to be back at “The Revenant” where the texture was fully authentic. (Oh, but the kids, they will like this much more, since it has been tailored for them.) Storywise it is simple and too simplistic, there’s not enough to fully engage an adult mind.
On top of that, for awhile, I was only finding every other scene to be engaging. Mowgli’s family of friends are animals that talk as crisply as they did in the family classic “Babe” (1995), but their dialogue is full of canned sentiments. The film really picks up when we hear Bill Murray’s voice who has brought much needed zest as Baloo the bear. Baloo corrals Mowgli to fetch him honey off the side of a cliff (my favorite moment), and from that point on, there’s a giddiness to the picture when they’re together. The song “Bare Necessities,” used in every previous version of the Jungle Book adaptations since 1967, is iterated in a bouncy and mirthful way. As long as Murray is belting the song out, the movie merrily floats.
Even Mowglis’ relationships with the others seem stronger in texture once Baloo is there, and that includes black panther Bagheera (voiced by a very stern Ben Kingsley). The trio of characters have a run-in with the nasty gigantopithecus they call King Louie (Christopher Walken, who gets a song of his own), and that precipitates an exciting visual sequence of a thrashed upon Hindu temple that seems inspired by Indiana Jones and that Brendan Fraser vehicle “The Mummy.” I thought, well, my nostalgia is kicking in for these kind of neat-o special effects of boulder-tumbling and rock-crumbling.
But this is what’s left to chew on in-between scenes: Will Mowgli return to live amongst his human species or will he remain a permanent jungle Tarzan? It’s not really much of Mowgli’s decision as it is the animal kingdom’s willingness to accept him permanently, but sure enough, Mowgli proves himself that he belongs there. For me, I took enough of a positive count of cool imagery that outweighs the banal.
105 Minutes. Rated PG.
FAMILY MOVIE / ACTION / WEEKEND FAMILY MOVIE
Film Cousins: “The Jungle Book” (1967); “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan” (1984); “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book” (1994); “Babe” (1995).