"The Jungle Book" 2016 is a delight. Go see it. Neel Sethi is utterly adorable. He's so good you want to dispatch a protective bubble or a team of social workers to his home to rescue him from the sad fate of other excellent child stars, like Judy Garland and Patty Duke.
Sethi plays Mowgli, a little Indian boy who cavorts around the forest with his animal friends: a pack of wolves, Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and Bagheera, a black panther (Ben Kingsley). Shere Khan the Tiger (Idris Elba), Kaa the Python (Scarlett Johansson), and King Louie the Orangutan (Christopher Walken) provide menace. The ratio of mindless fun to genuinely scary and suspenseful scenes is perfect. The CGI is excellent. I'm a birdwatcher and it was fun seeing realistic looking hoopoes, bee-eaters, peacocks and hornbills.
I loved "The Jungle Book" 1967 and I love this movie, too. I wish this film had as many songs as the old version. One song is cut because of a change in the plot, and one song is cut because a change in the approach. In the older version the elephants were comical; in this version they are the gods who created the forest. Baghera teaches Mowgli to worship them. That idea of elephants-as-gods probably won't go over well with many religious viewers.
Kaa, the python, does sing "Trust in Me," but over the closing credits, not during the film. That's a shame. Scarlet Johansson's smoky-jazzy Chet-Baker style version knocks it out of the park. The track is on youtube and fans are insisting that Johansson sing the next James Bond movie theme song.
"The Jungle Book" 2016 is all about boys and men and all for boys and men. The only significant female character is Kaa, and she tries to kill and eat Mowgli.
Most of the voice actors are much more low key than they were in the original version. I wish they had had more fun, been more flamboyant and campy. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken are really the only ones who juice up their voices for their parts, recognizing that voice acting is different than being on camera. Idris Elba is much too low-key as Shere Khan. George Sanders was, of course, superb in the original. With that voice and that attitude, who could he not be?
Go see this movie for no other reason than to hear Christopher Walken voice King Louie the Orangutan who wants to be human. Walken is Just. So. Good. I mean, he's Christopher Walken. How could he not be?
"The Jungle Book" 2016 has a significantly different ending than "The Jungle Book" 1967. If you don't want to know how the film ends, stop reading now, as this review will reveal the ending.
The plot of "The Jungle Book," both 1967 and 2016, is that a young orphan boy has been raised by wolves. His mentors, Bagheera and Baloo, must escort him to the man village, where he belongs. In the 1967 version, Mowgli does go to live in the man village. He is lured by a cute girl, singing the significantly titled song "My Own Home." In the 2016 version, Mowgli stays in the jungle. What is the movie saying, then, about humanity's "own home"?
Mowgli, in fighting off Shere Khan, grabs a burning torch from the man village. He accidentally sets the forest on fire. He uses his engineering skill and the elephants' "divine" strength to create a dam and flood the burning forest, thus extinguishing the fire and saving his animal friends' lives. In the 2016 version, the ideal human is not one who leaves the forest to live in the man village. The ideal human is an environmentalist. He is in the forest, of the forest, and he manages the forest and protects it from mankind's depredations.
Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here: http://save-send-delete.blogspot.com/2016/04/my-sweet-charlie-1970-patty-duke-al.html