ReelBob: ‘The Jungle Book’

By Bob Bloom

The concept of a live-action adaptation of “The Jungle Book” using CGI-created animals and top voice talents is, for the most part, a pleasing experience.

A live-action film, even though heavily green screened and computer generated, feels more grounded in reality, even with talking wolves, panthers, tigers, primates and bears.

It’s when this seemingly dramatic version of “The Jungle Book” tries to blend it with Disney’s popular animated feature that the movie heads south.

For the most part, director Jon Favreau has taken a bit more of a mature track for his movie, so when Bill Murray as Baloo the bear begins humming “The Bare Necessities” you don’t think much of it.

But then when Murray — and later young star Neel Sethi as Mowgli — breaks into the complete song while frolicking in the jungle, it becomes jarring and feels completely out of place.

It’s as if the movie was hedging its bets, wanting to make sure they were appealing to the youngsters — as well as the nostalgia of their parents, who were buying the tickets.

Later, when Christopher Walken as King Louie begins singing his song from the earlier film — off-key, at that — it completely takes you out of the movie.

As a result, the overall tone is erratic, jumping from a serious, sometimes grim, outlook to a playful and cartoonish vibe.

Obviously, none of this is going to make any difference to the kids in the audience, who will get a kick out of the interaction between Mowgli and his friends.

It’s the adults in the audience who may find these shifts disconcerting.

Another of the film’s drawbacks is its use of 3-D. At times it works well, but in some of the action sequences, it becomes blurry, making it hard to follow what’s transpiring on screen.

Young Sethi, making his film debut, makes a mischievous and quick-witted Mowgli, determined to stay in the jungle in which he was raised, despite the threats of the tiger, Shere Khan, who wants the man-cub dead.

The vocal talents of Idris Elba as Shere Khan and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Mowgli’s panther protector, stand out among a strong cast that also includes, beside Murray and Walken, a hypnotic Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the snake and Lupito Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowgli’s loving wolf mother.

Despite the unnecessary — and unwelcome — musical interludes, Favreau is able to create tension as Mowgli is continually interrupted on his journey to the “man village” to escape the vengeful jaws of Shere Khan.

Overall, “The Jungle Book” is enjoyable. But, it would have been better if — like last year’s live-action “Cinderella” — it had downplayed the animated aspects of its earlier incarnation.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

THE JUNGLE BOOK
2½ stars out of 4
(PG), sequences of scary action, violence

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