“I’m leaving,” says man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi). “I don’t want to see anyone hurt.” “Never forget,” says adoptive wolf-mother Raksha (voice of Lupita Nyong’o), “no matter where you go or what they call you, you will always be mine.” Mowgli must leave his only family — the wolf pack — after Shere Khan, a fearsome tiger (voice of Idris Elba), threatens him. “A man-cub becomes man, and man in the jungle is forbidden,” Shere Khan declares. That’s the setup for this visually splendid coming-of-age story.
Do Mowgli, panther Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) and bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray) reach the man-village? Can Mowgli bring fire to giant ape King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken)? Want to see “Jungle Book” again? I do.
Twelve-year-old Neel Sethi is the only live-action actor in “The Jungle Book.” He is appealing, earnest, brave and smart as tricky man-cub Mowgli. All other characters — wolves, big cats, the bear, the python, and the rest — are CGI creations, voiced by a skillful A-list cast. Outstanding are Idris Elba, whose deep and resonant voice is perfectly scary as tiger Shere Khan. “Mowgli’s gone,” says wolf-father Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). “Isn’t that what you wanted?” “I want him dead,” says Shere Khan. Bill Murray is the voice of fatherly con-bear Baloo, who saves Mowgli from slithery python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). “You owe me,” he says. “You’re gonna pay back because that’s the right thing. If it doesn’t make you happier, I will walk you down to the village.”
Others in the voice cast include Ben Kingsley as loyal panther Bagheera who, with the wolf pack, raised Mowgli, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, loving and protective wolf-mother, and Christopher Walken as huge, antic King Louie, leader of the monkey clan. Garry Shandling (who died recently) is Ikki, prickly and comic porcupine. Brighton Rose is wolf-pack runt Gray, Mowgli’s special friend.
“The Jungle Book” is family-friendly (too scary for small children), live-action, CGI, coming-of-age entertainment, based on Disney’s 1967 animated film, but darker and far richer visually. Jon Favreau directed, from Justin Marks’ admirable script, based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 stories. Astonishingly beautiful — atmospheric jungle and solid, three-dimensional animals — it’s the best of this sort of film work since “Avatar” (2009). As in the 1967 film, Baloo and Mowgli have a good time singing “Bare Necessities.” For older kids, there are exciting chases and a final, fearsome combat between Shere Khan and Mowgli. For adults, Christopher Walken sings “I Wanna Be Like You-oo-oo.” The take-away? “A boy brings all the jungle together for the first time.”
Rated PG for scary action and peril, “Jungle Book” runs 105 minutes.
See it in 3-D,
Be sure to take a look —
Visual treat to see,
Live-action “Jungle Book.”